Friday, October 31, 2014

The Triumphal Entry

Life of Christ 147

Indian Christian devotees carry palm leaves during a Palm Sunday service at Wesley Church in Secunderabad, the twin city of Hyderabad, on April 13, 2014.
          It is Sunday morning. Jesus will die the following Wednesday afternoon. But on this morning He does not come into Jerusalem as a suffering Saviour; He comes to present Himself to the nation with His claim to the throne. 'Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; Shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: Behold, thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation; Lowly, and riding upon an ass, And upon the foal of an ass.' (Zechariah 9.9).
          Ungodly men assert that Jesus simply staged this (Matthew 21.1-11) as a self-fulfilling prophecy. But you cannot stage the strange availability of two animals in a city packed to the gills, and you cannot stage the excited reaction of a crowd of millions. As word got around of Jesus' formal entrance into the city an impromptu parade route formed. Those closest to Him spread their coats on the ground in a form of honor. Others, tearing palm branches off of their huts, waved them. Shouts of 'Hosanna' and quotations from Psalm 118 rose in the air. There have been high points before but nothing like this. This is the nation at His feet.
          Or is it?
          No, it is not. This is not a national acceptance, and the proof of this fact would be seen in 72 hours. It was the fulfillment of a necessary prophecy, and if the crowd had remained silent the stones would have cried out. (Luke 19.37-40) Jesus Christ was going to be praised that morning one way or another.
          No, this is not a national acceptance. It is an enormous excited crowd. Crowds exponentially multiply the emotions that people are experiencing, whether panic or worship or excitement or hatred or anything else. 'All the city was moved' (Matthew 21.10) but there was no widespread repentance and belief.
          The Apostles made several tremendous mistakes on this day, but one of the worst was equating excitement with spirituality. They looked at the response around them and decided that the nation had come to believe in Jesus' claims at last. Yet that mistake is by no means limited to the Apostles of His day. It is made repeatedly, on a wide scale, by God's people in the twenty first century.
          Do not confuse excitement with spirituality, in a preacher, church, ministry, or movement. To be spiritual is to be scriptural. To be scriptural is to believe God's Word. To believe God's Word is to base your life upon it – not just your emotions temporarily. Exciting sermons, invitations, conferences, and ministries are not wrong because they are exciting, but they are not right because they are exciting either.
          Excitement is exceedingly temporary. Belief is permanent. The Word of God is permanent. The promises of God are permanent. Heaven is permanent. Salvation is permanent. Heavenly rewards are permanent. The salvation of the souls of men is permanent. Live by the permanent not by the temporary. Be impressed with the permanent not with the temporary. Prioritize the permanent not the temporary.
          The Apostles were emotionally caught up in a temporary mood of excitement. Meanwhile, Jesus rode above them and wept for He saw the truth. I look around at this old world and I see so many people caught up in excitement about temporary things. I want to keep my eyes focused on the permanent – the truth, the Word of God, the things of God, and Jesus Christ.

          Beloved, let us be impressed and moved, not by what is exciting, but by what is true and permanent.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

The Lament Over Jerusalem

Life of Christ 146

          We last saw Christ on Friday night at the celebratory dinner put on by Simon in Bethany. Saturday was the Sabbath, and would have been spent quietly in Bethany. On Sunday morning, Jesus and the Apostles got up and headed into Jerusalem. This is the day of the famous Triumphal Entry, otherwise known as Palm Sunday. Before we get to that, however, we must examine something that takes place along the way, namely, the lament over Jerusalem. (Luke 19.41-44)
          The key to understanding this story is to see the contrast in it between Jesus and everyone else present.
  Jerusalem, normally a city of 200,000 is packed with millions of Jews. They have spilled out of the city on every side almost all the way to Bethany. This tremendous crowd had one man on their mind and one name on their lips – Jesus. Then, when the news began to trickle through the vast throng that Jesus was about to come riding into the city (Matthew 21.1-5) hundreds of thousands of them surrounded an impromptu parade route. There were certainly many Christians in the crowd, and as they cheered the arrival of Jesus the crowd began to pick up on the enthusiasm. As it will, excitement bred still more excitement, and soon everyone and their brother was cheering.
          The Apostles, meanwhile, surrounding the ass and the colt on which Jesus was riding were thinking about one thing – the kingdom. It had been on their mind for weeks now. (see Life of Christ 139 and Life of Christ 142) When Jesus told them to get the animals in order to fulfill Zechariah's prophecy, Behold, thy King cometh unto thee, (Zechariah 9.9) His words confirmed what their hearts had so long craved. Now, strolling along with Him, they are smiling and laughing. They are soaking it all in.
          They gave up their lives to follow Christ. They tramped with Him all over Palestine. They slept under the stars. They ate poor man's food. They were criticized, attacked, slandered, laughed at, and mocked. They endured awful nights, such as the one when Jesus had earlier rejected a crown (see Life of Christ 74). They have struggled to understand and to follow Jesus. Now then, their ship has come in. Their faith is being repaid. Jesus is taking charge. The Pharisees, Sadducees, and the Sanhedrin are about to get a kick in the teeth. The Roman Empire is about to be turned upside down. Israel will be on top. And this Man, to whom they have been supremely loyal, and to whom they were closer than anyone else is about to take charge. Finally. This is it.
          The crowd cheers itself hoarse. The Apostles build air castles out of their dreams. And all alone, astride the animals, without a soul noticing, Jesus silently weeps. And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it. (Luke 19.41). The crowd made the mistake of being excited about the excitement. The Apostles made the mistake of being excited by their own desires. Jesus saw, not the present excitement, but an awful tragedy in the not distant future.
          Thirty years later in AD 66 Emperor Nero, running out of money, demanded that Florus (in charge of Judea) confiscate the Temple's money. One of the responses was a group of Jews who mockingly begged for money on the street to provide for a bankrupt Roman government. Enraged, Florus tried to find them but could not. He settled for grabbing some random citizens off the same street and crucifying them. Without warning, like dry tinder to which a spark is suddenly laid, the Jews rose up in revolt against Rome.
          Initially their rebellion met with success. They captured the Roman fortress at Masada. Using weapons captured from the fortress, they rooted out the Roman garrison at the Fortress Antonio in Jerusalem. In response to this Rome sent in portions of four legions, and was soundly beaten. In fact, the Jews even captured one of the legions standards, a grave sin in the eyes of Rome. The revolt thrived, casting the Romans out of the rest of Judea, and most of Galilee.
          Rome, of course, did not take this sitting down. They sent in three full legions under the command of Vespasian. In a year's time he reconquered Galilee and most of Judea. He was closing in on Jerusalem when Nero suddenly died. As it often did, the death of a Roman emperor sent the empire into a short but nasty civil war as claimants fought each other for the throne. Vespasian was involved in this and actually won the throne, becoming the next emperor. In the process, though, he largely abandoned the war in Palestine and the Jews, once again, rolled back the Roman gains.
          In AD 69 the now Emperor Vespasian sent his son, Titus, back to Judea to finish the job. Titus well knew that until he reconquered Jerusalem the rebellion would continue to smolder. By the spring of AD 70 he had surrounded the city with four legions, including one camped on the very spot where Jesus wept looking over Jerusalem thirty years before.
          It was Passover. The Jews held themselves to their religious ordinances even in the midst of war, and hundreds of thousands of them streamed toward Jerusalem. Titus, cleverly, allowed the civilians to pass his lines into the city and then refused to allow any food to follow. As the food shortage grew acute gangs of men began to roam the city streets, breaking into houses searching for food. Cannibalism was reported.
          There were approximately 26,000 Jewish soldiers holed up in Jerusalem under various leaders along with more than a million civilians. Shortly, these soldiers fell to quarreling with themselves. This factionalism allowed the Romans to build siege works with complete impunity. For weeks the Romans besieged Jerusalem while control of various walls and gates surged back and forth. Finally, realizing how difficult it would be to root the Jews out of the strong points in Jerusalem, Titus backed up and settled down to starve them out. He cut down every tree within ten miles of Jerusalem and built his own wall, a wooden palisade that surrounded the city completely.
          The tables had turned. Now, Jews that had been desperate to keep the Romans out of Jerusalem became desperate to get out themselves. Those that tried to sneak through the lines were almost always caught, and an average of 500 Jews a day were thus crucified for weeks. Meanwhile, inside the city, starvation and disease were rampant. The Jewish soldiers would carry the dead bodies out of the Eastern Gate and thrown them into the Kidron Valley. One defector told Titus that the Jews themselves estimated the number of corpses they thus disposed of to be at least one hundred fifteen thousand.
The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem
Francisco Hayez, 1867
   It was now mid-July. The battle had begun in April. With the city substantially weakened Titus managed to storm and recapture Fortress Antionio. This was one of the highest points in Jerusalem and was directly adjacent to the Temple. In fact, Herod the Great had built them as two portions of the same extended set of works. Stone by stone, the Romans tore down the fortress in order to build siege works against the Temple. Once those siege works got close enough the Romans either set fire to the Temple or it was accidentally kindled. In either event, with the burning of the Temple (a massive building project of decades only just finished seven years prior) the heart of Israel was crushed.
          Stalwart Jewish zealots continued to fight on, as in the Warsaw Ghetto against the Nazis 2000 years later, in the sewers as well as in the palace. Stone by stone, the massive Temple was pulled down to build siege works against the palace, which was soon taken. The fighting in the sewers continued, but by September 8 it was all over.
The Arch of Titus
          Titus mercilessly plundered the city. An intact arch celebrating his triumph over Jerusalem can still be seen in Rome today. A hundred thousand Jews were taken in chains to Rome where they gave their lives to construct one of the wonders of the ancient world, the Colosseum. In six months 600,000 Jews were either killed, burned, or crucified in Jerusalem. Another 500,000 died from starvation, violence, and disease. The Temple, with its archives and treasury, was looted, burned, and torn apart stone by stone.
          And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, Saying, if thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto they peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, And shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation. (Luke 19.41-44)

          …the crowd of millions cheered a Jesus they did not believe in. The Apostles walked beside Him into Jerusalem with dreams of glory dancing in their heads. And above them all rode Christ, with tears streaming down His face.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

She Did It for My Burial

Life of Christ 145

          Jesus is on the lips of hundreds of thousands of Jews traveling to Jerusalem for Passover. What think ye, that he will not come to the feast? (John 11.56) The common people saw the same crisis point coming that the Apostles saw. They knew that Jesus had not knuckled under in regard to His claims, and they also knew that repeated attempts had been made in Jerusalem on His life recently. The nation fully expected fireworks to result if Jesus chose to attend this year's Passover feast.
          Jesus not only refused to be intimidated by all of the opposition, He had also long known precisely when His time would come. All the fury of hell was not going to prevent Him from keeping that appointment. (Isaiah 50.7) To Passover He went.
        He arrived on Friday, six days before the feast. He and His Apostles stayed at Lazarus' home in Bethany which was just 15 city blocks outside of Jerusalem. It was both convenient and friendly. On His arrival, Lazarus and his sisters accompanied Him to a celebratory feast (Matthew 26.6-13) laid on for Him at a nearby home. (John 12.2) This neighbor, Simon, must have been an influential man, for he maintained his position as a leader in Bethany even though he was a leper.
          At this dinner, Simon would have sat at the head of the table. Lazarus, likewise, would have sat at table. Martha, typically, was busy serving. Where was Mary?
          Years earlier, Jesus had been a guest at a similar dinner also in the home of a man named Simon. This particular Simon was a Pharisee, and since he was only interested in trapping Jesus in His conversation he was a rather poor host. In fact, he did not even instruct his servants to wash the dust of the road from Jesus' feet, as was customary. At that dinner, which is discussed in Luke 7, (see Life of Christ 63) a prostitute sneaked into the crowd surrounding the table. There, so moved with the compassion and mercy of Christ, she knelt at His reclining feet. She proceeded to wash His feet with her tears, dry them with her hair, and then anoint them tenderly.
          Now, years later, in Judea, just five days before the crucifixion, a similar scene takes place. A woman, carrying a valuable perfumed ointment (spikenard, of Indian origin, and old, for Solomon mentions it) in an alabaster box kneels in a similar fashion at Jesus' feet. Tenderly, she liberally pours it onto His feet, and then wipes up the excess with her hair.
          Although she did not stop the presses to announce her actions they would have been very noticeable nonetheless. Jesus' feet were not under the table, but stretched out behind Him in the fashion of the day. Additionally, she also poured some of the perfumed ointment onto His head. (Mark 14.3) In so doing, an absolutely lovely fragrance permeated the entire room. (John 12.3) And, to top it off, it was Lazarus' sister, Mary, who had done this.
          The Apostles accompanied Jesus to this celebratory dinner. Judas Iscariot, who in mere days will become the most infamous man in history, protests over the monetary waste of such a gift. (John 12.4-5) He insists it would have been better to sell the spikenard and give the money away to the poor. He does this, not out of altruism, but because he controlled the group's money and he was a thief. (John 12.6).
          Jesus' reaction was the polar opposite of Judas Iscariot's. He defends Mary, yet again. (Remember Martha's accusations that Mary would not work?) He declares that this story will be preached in the Church for generations to come. (Matthew 26.13).
          All of this is familiar ground to the mature Christian but what occupies my mind as I examine this story is the questions, 'why?' Why did Mary do this thing? It was not because Jesus' feet had not been washed, as in that other dinner in Galilee years ago, for there is no record of this and Mary also anointed His head. It was not because Mary felt like being the center of attention for in her family's interactions with Christ she rarely speaks. Nor was it just that she anointed Him according to custom. Yes, it was customary in the day to anoint rabbis at formal feasts such as weddings but she went way beyond such a simple anointing. She poured on Him the entire contents of the box.
          Scripture gives us the reason, and it is very precious. For in that she hath poured this ointment on my body, she did it for my burial. (Matthew 26.12) The Apostles, though Jesus had repeatedly mentioned His soon coming death, never grasped it. They wanted Jesus to usher in the kingdom, and that is exactly what they expected. (Luke 19.11) I am absolutely positive that the other disciples, the small band of Christians that were also in Jerusalem for Passover, expected the very same thing. Not a single human being who loved and accepted Jesus understood what He was about to go through – except for Mary. In other words, the only person in the entire world who understood what was actually happening was Mary. She alone extended to Him the sympathy of that understanding.
          What a comfort that must have been! No one was more misunderstood in His own day than Jesus Christ. That had been true for the entirety of His ministry. His family did not understand Him. His followers did not understand Him. His friends did not understand Him. He enemies did not understand Him. The common people did not understand Him. Now, at the very end, as He is about to undergo the most extreme pressure test any human being has ever experienced, there is no one that will look at Him and say, 'I understand what you are facing' – except Mary. No, she certainly did not grasp it all, for no one could. But while everyone else was expecting the coming week to end on a throne Mary alone saw where it was really going. She alone saw a tomb in His immediate future.
So while everyone else was celebrating she quietly slipped out. Did she argue with herself about whether she ought to anoint Him? Did she question the appropriateness of it in her mind? I have no idea. I doubt it though. Methinks her emotions, a tender love for Christ combined with a deep grief over the fact she was about to lose Him along with the horror that He was facing this all alone, drove her to extend to Him the only gesture she could. And He was tenderly touched.

Beloved, may we all love Him as well and as sacrificially and as tenderly as Mary alone in her day did. So may we all. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Support For a Friday Crucifixion

Life of Christ 144

Note: This is the second of a two day discussion on the timing of the crucifixion. It is a little technical rather than being devotional, but I think many of you will find it at least informative and hopefully helpful.

          Here are the traditional supports for a Friday crucifixion position. I do not find them compelling, or even as weighty as the supports for the Wednesday position, but they are reasonable enough that I will not quarrel with someone who holds that position.

                    A. In the OL (original language) Greek the word translated in our KJV 'preparation' in the phrase 'day of preparation' is the same word for 'Friday'
                    Of course, the KJV translators chose to use the word 'preparation' instead of 'Friday' for very good reasons, so this one doesn't hold a lot of weight with me.

                    B. The day before the sabbath was Friday

                     We have already discussed this, and I found it holds no merit whatsoever.

                    C. church tradition in general holds a Friday crucifixion view

                    That is true, but there have always been, in every generation, reputable Christian leaders who held a Wednesday view. It has never been the majority, but it has always been present. This reason is not sufficiently weighty.

                    D. Because the Jews viewed any portion of a day as counting for a whole day, chronologically; thus late Friday, all day Saturday, early Sunday count as three days

                    This is, in my mind, a feasible explanation for the most part, but Mat 12 emphatically and specifically says 'three days and three nights'.

                    E. because the day after Passover was the Feast of Firstfruits, and Jesus was raised as the firstfruits of the resurrection (I Cor 15)

                    This is also a good point as it keeps Jesus in line as an example of the OT feasts. This would not be possible with a Wednesday crucifixion for in that view He spend the Feast of Firstfruits in His tomb on Friday.

                    F. Because a vast majority of Scriptures refer to the fact Jesus was raised on 'the third day'; if He was in the ground for three days He would have been raised on the fourth day
                              Hosea 6.2
                              Mat 16.21, 17.23, 20.19
                              Mark 9.31, 10.34
                              Luke 9.22, 13.32, 18.33, 24.7, 24.21, 24.46
                              Acts 10.40
                              I Cor 15.4

          I find this, by far, the most telling argument for a Friday crucifixion position. For example, on the day of His resurrection Jesus discusses the events incognito with two men while walking toward Emmaus. We know He rose from the dead on Sunday. Yet they say:
Lu 24:21  But we trusted that it had been he which should have redeemed Israel: and beside all this, to day is the third day since these things were done.

          It is largely because of Mat 12.38-40 that I must maintain a Wednesday crucifixion, and it is largely because of Luke 24.21 that I am charitable toward those who maintain a Friday crucifixion.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Support for a Wednesday Crucifixion

Life of Christ 143

Note: This is the first of a two day discussion on the timing of the crucifixion. It is a little technical rather than being devotional, but I think many of you will find it at least informative and hopefully helpful.

         There is, to put it mildly, tremendous disagreement as to the exact timing of the events of the Passion Week, mostly relating to the day of the crucifixion. It is important to remember that the vital issue is a belief in the resurrection, not a belief in a Wednesday, Thursday, or Friday crucifixion. In other words, the timing is not a fundamental of the faith.
          On the other hand, establishing the day of the crucifixion determines what schedule you use for the rest of the week, and does have some impact on an in-depth study of the events of that week. Because of that, I found myself forced to study it out and to take a position although I am frankly not exactly sure I am right. So please keep that in mind.

          1. Jesus entered the vicinity of Jerusalem six days before Passover
John 12.1 Then Jesus six days before the passover came to Bethany, where Lazarus was which had been dead, whom he raised from the dead.
                    -if the Passover was 15 Nisan then that makes this 9 Nisan
                    -the day of preparation would be 14 Nisan
                    -if the crucifixion was on Friday that would put Jesus' arrival in Bethany on the previous Sunday
                    -if the crucifixion is on Wednesday then that puts His arrival in Bethany at the previous Friday

          2. Jesus was crucified on the day before Passover, what was commonly called the day of preparation
Mt 27:62  Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate,
Mark 15.42   And now when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath,
Lu 23:54  And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.
John 19.14  And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King!
Joh 19:31  The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath day, (for that sabbath day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.
Joh 19:42  There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews’ preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand.

          3. the Jewish day does not run, like ours, from midnight to midnight, but rather from twilight to twilight
Le 23:32  It shall be unto you a sabbath of rest, and ye shall afflict your souls: in the ninth day of the month at even, from even unto even, shall ye celebrate your sabbath.

          4. Jesus was crucified on Wednesday

                    A. because Scripture specifically says three days and three nights
Mat 12.38 Then certain of the scribes and of the Pharisees answered, saying, Master, we would see a sign from thee.
39  But he answered and said unto them, An evil and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas:
40  For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

                    B. because 'sabbath' in Scripture does not always mean Saturday; it means 'day of rest' and was found at the beginning of date-specific feasts regardless of what day of the week they fell on

          Day of Atonement referenced earlier (10 Tisri)
Lev 16.29 ¶  And this shall be a statute for ever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you:
30  For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD.
31  It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute for ever.

          Feast of Tabernacles (14 Tisri to 21 Tisri)
Le 23:39  Also in the fifteenth day of the seventh month, when ye have gathered in the fruit of the land, ye shall keep a feast unto the LORD seven days: on the first day shall be a sabbath, and on the eighth day shall be a sabbath.

          Thus, those who would insist that the day of preparation had to be Friday based on a Saturday sabbath are incorrect. The day of preparation was simply the day before Passover. Passover was date specific (though there is some confusion as to whether that date was 14 Nisan or 15 Nisan; the Pharisees and Sadducees of Jesus' day observed it differently), and so it wasn't tied to Saturday at all. I completely agree that Jesus died the day before the sabbath, but that sabbath was Passover, and could have been any day of the week.
          There are those who have attempted to show, by way of lunar calendars et al, that Passover during the Passion Week was on Thursday, but that is problematic. First, because we do not have a very firm idea of exactly which year it was Jesus died. Many people have tried to establish that but I am not absolutely convinced by any of them. That would throw out any certainty of establishing Passover by lunar calendars. Second, because it is not sound hermeneutics to establish beliefs based on extra-biblical supports. But we do not need these lunar calendars to establish that the sabbath could justifiably have fallen on Thursday, and that Jesus was buried for 72 hours. Scripture alone supports that.

                    C. Because the women who brought spices to anoint His body with could not have purchased them on the sabbath

          Jesus was buried hastily just before the sabbath commenced. As such, the women attending did not have time to sufficiently prepare His body as they wanted to. They quickly did what they could and planned to return after the sabbath.
Luke 23.50  And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just:
51  (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God.
52  This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus.
53  And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid.
54  And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on.
55  And the women also, which came with him from Galilee, followed after, and beheld the sepulchre, and how his body was laid.
56  And they returned, and prepared spices and ointments; and rested the sabbath day according to the commandment.
24.1 ¶  Now upon the first day of the week, very early in the morning, they came unto the sepulchre, bringing the spices which they had prepared, and certain others with them.

          But the day after the Passover sabbath, Friday, was also Feast of Firstfruits as well as its own preparation day for the Saturday sabbath. It is entirely reasonable that these women, while squeezing in enough time to purchase more spices, did not have time to go the tomb and finish preparing Jesus' body. They could not go Saturday. Thus we find them at the tomb on Sunday morning.

          Clearly they bought additional spices between the time of Jesus' initial burial and the time they saw the empty tomb on Sunday morning. They could not have done that if He was buried Friday night for Saturday was the sabbath.
Mark 16.1 ¶  And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him.

2  And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun.

          Tomorrow, I will discuss the reasons that underly support for a Friday crucifixion, and what I think about those reasons.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Occupy Till I Come

Life of Christ 142

          Jesus and His Apostles are days away from the crucifixion. They have just left Jericho, with its scenes of the healing of Bar Timeaus and the salvation of Zaccheus. They are ascending the 3600 foot rise from Jericho to Jerusalem that takes most of a day's walk.
          The Apostles knew Jesus was facing the crisis point of His ministry. Galilee was hostile. Judea was downright murderous. Herod Antipas wanted to kill Christ. The Sanhedrin was not only fomenting mob violence against Him but was also carefully plotting His assassination. Jesus' popular support had mostly dwindled away. And they were heading into the mouth of the beast, Jerusalem, where attempts had been made on His life four times in the last six months, and where the whole nation was gathering.
         Ah, this was all true, but had not they seen Him walk on water? Had they not seen Him multiply the loaves and fishes? Heal the sick? Cleanse the lepers? Raise the dead? Yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes! Thus it was they rightly interpreted this moment as the crisis point of His life, and wrongly interpreted the result. The Apostles expected Jesus to do something so stupendous, so publicly undeniable in a miraculous sort of way, so as to turn it all around. The Apostles expected Jesus to be the King of Israel within a week.
          It is in this context, and for these reasons that Jesus tells today's story (Luke 19.11-28). 'And as they heard these things, he added and spake a parable, because he was nigh to Jerusalem, and because they thought that the kingdom of God should immediately appear' (Luke 19.11).
          When Jesus was a young boy Herod the Great died. His son, Archaleus, was given charge of the region around Jericho under Roman suzerainty. Archaleus developed an appetite for the same title, king, his father had been granted, and so he traveled to Rome to ask Caesar for it. Playing off of that story, Jesus tells of a man who journeys to a distant city in order to be declared king. This man's citizens hated him, and are glad that he is gone. In fact, they think he is gone forever. As he leaves, he commits the current situation to his faithful servants, and tells them that he will return shortly with the writ of kingship. Until then, they are to be busy serving him. When he returns the servants will need to give an account for what they did while the man was away receiving the kingdom.
          The parallels here are obvious. Jesus is the man who is disliked of his citizens, and must leave in order to obtain a kingdom. He will leave via the crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. He will return with the legal standing of a king. Until then, He commissioned the Church to be busy serving Him. We will give an account for our service when the King returns.
          The heartbeat of this story is Christ's instruction 'occupy till I come' (Luke 19.13). Implicit in the original language word translated in the King James Version occupy is the idea of going into business. In a very real sense, God's work on this earth in our dispensation is a business. No, it is not a for-profit business, but it is a business. Jesus had long felt that way. 'Wist ye not that I must be about my Father's business?' (Luke 2.49). Long after Jesus left it was also how the Apostles felt. 'Look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business' (Acts 6.3).

          So many people of my acquaintance treat their Christianity like a hobby when they should treat it like a business. They are routinely late to church but never late to work. They casually skip Sunday School but would never skip work. They read their Bible when they are in the mood, but they read the spreadsheet at work whether they want to or not. Their priorities in life, and thus their behavior are exactly backward.
          I am not saying that the only people right with God are those missionaries and pastors who have given their entire life to His service. I am saying that each and every Christian is to take their Christianity seriously. They are to treat it with the same care and thought and emphasis and priority that they would a successful business. They, strike that, we are to be about our Father's business until the King returns.

          'Occupy till I come.' 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why Jesus Came

Life of Christ 141

Jesus Summoning Zacchaeus
William Brassey Hole, 1890
          It is Thursday. Jesus will die in six days. He and His Apostles are traveling with the pilgrim caravans through Jericho up to Jerusalem. Already today, on His journey, He has taken the time to minister to blind Bar Timeaus. Now, we shall see Him minister to a different man and another need (Luke 19.1-10).
          Jericho is known to us as the city that Joshua conquered by marching around it. Sitting just west of the Jordan River, and north of the Dead Sea, it was the first city captured by Israel after their 40 years wandering in the wilderness. By Jesus' day, 1400 years later, it had been rebuilt a little distance away from its original location, and it had grown substantially. The Jews were resistant to the idea of traveling through Samaria. Consequently, most of the merchant traffic between Galilee and Judea went through Jericho. Further, it was also astride major trade routes between the Mediterranean Sea and destinations north of the Persian Gulf.
          This constant stream of business attracted tax collectors like a gooey banana attracts flies. You will remember that these tax collectors, the publicans, worked on a for profit basis, and that they were the single most despised class in the Jewish system (see Life of Christ 48).
          Jesus is the most famous man in Israel at this point. Hundreds of thousands are flocking to Jerusalem for Passover, and His name is on their lips. Will He go to Jerusalem? What will the Sanhedrin do if He does? Tens of thousands of them are camped for the night at Jericho, and suddenly, here is that very same Jesus they were just speaking of, strolling through the crowd. Recognizing Him, a crowd formed, and another crowd came to see what the crowd was about.
          In the crowd that day was a publican named Zacchaeus. Being a short fellow, and spotting the direction the crowd was flowing, he ran on ahead and climbed a tree so that he could see Jesus as He walked by. Guess who stopped right underneath Zacchaeus' tree? Guess who informed Zacchaeus that He and His Apostles were going to spend the night with him? What an honor! And to such a man! 'And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully' (Luke 19.6). Thus it was that Zacchaeus' entire life was turned upside down in the very best way. 'And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house' (Luke 19.9).
          We see in this familiar story several things that are so sweetly characteristic of Christ. We see His compassion for those rejected by the rest of society. We see His willingness to fearlessly contradict the stuck up religiousity of His day. But what makes this story unique is one explanatory phrase which issues from Jesus' mouth. It contains a truth which we might well have suspected, or even inferred, from how He spent His life but now there is no need to suspect or infer. Instead, we have a clear, plain, contextual, self-given reason for why Jesus came.
        Let us pay attention here, for all that He has done – laid aside the fullness of His deity; humbled himself to be born; in a manger; to common people; growing up in anonymity; traveling as an poverty stricken itinerant preacher; being insulted, ridiculed, and mocked by the political and intellectual elites of His day; subjecting Himself to the constant presence of the 12 Apostles with all of their questions, criticisms, complaints, ambitions, and doubts; facing, unflinchingly, a cruel death at the hands of His own people; facing the indescribable heartache of the Father's rejection; dipping His soul into the torments of hell – why has He done all of this? What is His driving motivation? What possible reason could be big enough to cause Almighty God to do all of this?
          You are.
          'For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost' (Luke 19.10). That is you. And that is me. In other words, what motivated Jesus, what drove Him to be Who He was and to undergo what He endured was people.
          What is your motivation? What do you want? What are you trying to get? What are you trying to do? What moves, drives, impels you forward in your life? For Jesus, that answer was the souls of men. He pursued them with a single minded ferocious love.
          Beloved, His motivation ought to be our motivation. His love ought to be our love. His aim ought to be our aim. Jesus loved His world, and making salvation available to them is what drove Him.
What do you love? Does there beat, inside your heart, tender thoughts for the hordes of humanity that fill the sidewalks and buses and trains and cars and bicycles of your city? Do you love the immigrant? Do you love the life-long American? Do you love the Hispanic, the Jew, the Eastern European, the Arab, the Asian, and the African that call your city home? Do you love those in the barrios, and in the hood, and in the high rise condo developments? Do you love the homeless who sleep under the bridge? Do you love the waitress, preoccupied with her son's troubles at school, who mangles your order? Do you love the nurse, weary from another double shift, who speaks to you with annoying arrogance? Do you love the petty bureaucrat who thinks the sun won't rise tomorrow if you don't have the proper stamp in the proper place on the proper paper? Do you love the gang member who terrorizes your neighborhood? Do you love the Jehovah's Witness who rings your doorbell? Do you love the politician who grows fat eating from the trough of corruption and vice? Do you love the neighbor across the hall who swears at his children? Do you love your world?
If His motivation becomes our motivation and His love becomes our love then His priority will become our priority. This is why soul winning is so important to me. This is why teaching my children to witness is to important to me. This is why training soul winners is so important to me. This is why the one battle I will win in my church at all costs is the battle to make it a soul winning church. This is why I have preached about it dozens of times in my years as a pastor. The souls of men are the very reason Jesus came.

Is that which is important to Him important to you? Is that which He loves what you love? Is that which drives Him the same as that which drives you? What are you seeking? Who are you seeking? What or who will you pursue with a single minded ferocious love this week?      

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

What Wilt Thou?

Life of Christ 140

          It is the last week of Jesus' life. He and His Apostles are traveling the regular pilgrim route from Galilee to Jerusalem. Along the way, they cross over the Jordan River, and pass through Jericho. Normally, the pilgrims would rest in Jericho before spending the next day ascending 3600 feet in elevation through a rocky gorge to the outskirts of Jerusalem.
          It is in this setting, while resting at Jericho, that Jesus heals two blind beggars, one of whose names we know, Bar Timaeus, the son of Timaeus (Mark 10.46-52). As Jesus walked through the crowd of pilgrims in his vicinity, Bar Timaeus heard the commotion, and yelled loudly for Jesus. Jesus heard him, and instructed Bar Timaeus to be brought to Him. Jesus, of course, heals him of his blindness, but I want to draw from this familiar story one particularly wonderful lesson I find here – the importance of specific prayer.

          Bar Timaeus called loudly for mercy, and as a blind man it was rather obvious what he most wanted from Jesus. Yet Jesus asked Bar Timaeus to be specific in his prayer. 'And Jesus answered and said unto him, What wilt thou that I should do unto thee? The blind man said unto him, Lord, that I might receive my sight' (Mark 10.51).
The moment Bar Timaeus called for Jesus he was praying. He prayed boldly, not ashamed that other people looked down on him for it. He prayed fervently, crying out repeatedly. He prayed respectfully, giving Jesus a messianic title. He prayed perseveringly, continuing on even though those around him tried to shut him up. Yet he did not receive anything until he prayed specifically.
We pray for God's blessing. How do you want Him to bless you? When do you want Him to do this? Why are you asking for this blessing? Certainly we ought to pray yielded to the will of God, and conscious that God has the right to refuse our request or amend it. Certainly some concepts we pray for will be rather nebulous. But neither of these facts ought to stop us from coming to God with clear and definite specific requests.
Specific prayer teaches us to know our own needs better. I've known men who were rather bad fathers and husbands to utter generic prayers asking God to bless their families. On the other hand, if they would have specified actual biblical truth with their requests they would have understood their own needs better. For instance, if you are unmarried, ask for a mate (Proverbs 18.22). Ask for help bringing up your children in the Lord (Ephesians 6.4). Ask God to bridge the generation gap between you and your children (Malachi 4.6). Ask God to keep close union in your marriage (Matthew 19.6). Ask God to help you love your wife (Ephesians 5.25). Ask God to help you follow your husband (Ephesians 5.22). Ask God to help you lead a holy life so the unsaved in your family will be convicted (I Peter 3.1). Ask God for your children's obedience (Ephesians 6.1). Ask God for your children's respect (Proverbs 30.17). We become more conscious of our Scriptural responsibilities and thus of our desperate need to have His help in order to accomplish them. Definite prayer leads to a specific rendering of our needs, and thus to a broader understanding of what those needs actually are.
In this way, specific prayer puts our desires to the test, revealing whether those desires are indeed scriptural. 'Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts' (James 4.3). Think of a liberal church in your area, one with a woman pastor, for instance. They probably ask God to bless their church just like you do. But if they would begin to pray specifically for God to bless their pastor they would quickly find that God will not, for their pastor is in open violation of the Word of God. When you ask God to bless something on a definite level it forces you to examine whether He scripturally can or not. Can we ask God for this? Should we ask God for this.
'God, bless the missionaries all around the world tonight.' How would you ever notice if He did? You have not asked Him anything specifically and so you have no idea if He has answered you. If your idea of prayer is to say words to God you have the wrong idea of it. Prayer is designed for you to use to get things from God. But if you do not ask for anything specifically you cannot receive anything.
Eliezer and Rebekah, Salomon de Bray, 1660
     In Genesis 24 there is a wonderful story. Abraham's steward is sent back to Abraham's home area to find a bride for Isaac. Wisely, the steward prayed for specific guidance. 'Let it come to pass, that the damsel to whom I shall say, Let down thy pitcher, I pray thee, that I may drink; and she shall say, Drink, and I will give thy camels drink also: let the same be she that thou hast appointed for thy servant Isaac' (Genesis 24.14). When that specific happened it was not hard for the steward to know with certainty that this was the right woman. He had asked very specifically and gotten a very specific answer.
          Additionally, specific prayer helps us to be thankful. You can spend zero time thinking and murmur a prayer of gratitude to God on Thanksgiving Day for all the blessings He has given you. Alternatively, you can sit down, make a list of 75 different things God has done for you in the last year, and spend a very sweet 30 minutes praising the Lord. Unequivocally, I promise you the latter is marvelous. Yet most of God's people live the former, and live much poorer spiritual lives because of it.
          Do not just ask God to help you today. Tell Him specifically what you want Him to do.
          'Jesus, thou Son of David, have mercy on me.'

          'What wilt thou that I should do unto thee?'

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Not to Be Ministered Unto

Life of Christ 139

          Along the way of this wonderful journey through the life of Christ we have experienced a number of pivot points that mark a serious change or turning in the direction of Christ's life and ministry. Today's story (Matthew 20.17-28) is one of those. Three years of traveling, preaching, teaching, healing, training, mentoring, praying, and ministering have all led to this point.
          As they set out on this massively important trip, the last one they will take in which the Apostles will still view Him normally, so to speak, He sits them down for a conversation. He is, once again, seeking to prepare them for the dark night of the soul they will face in a week's time.

Matthew 20.17 And Jesus going up to Jerusalem took the twelve disciples apart in the way, and said unto them,
18 Behold, we go up to Jerusalem; and the Son of man shall be betrayed unto the chief priests and unto the scribes, and they shall condemn him to death,
19 And shall deliver him to the Gentiles to mock, and to scourge, and to crucify him: and the third day he shall rise again.

          Jesus has, through the last year, alluded to this with them both openly and symbolically. He has done this repeatedly. He does it, once more, on this last trip to Jerusalem. He cannot possibly say it any more clearly than this – yet they still do not get it. 'And they understood none of these things' (Luke 18.34).
          The Apostles, to their everlasting credit, believe Jesus is Israel's Messiah. Further, they believe He is the divine Son of God. But they do not grasp that the Old Testament prophecies about the messiah reveal two different advents for two different reasons, one to suffer and die as Saviour, and one to rule and reign as King. In their mind, in spite of how badly everything has been going for the last few months, they still expect Jesus to become Israel's king. In a sense, this shows great faith on the part of the Apostles. In another sense, however, and from Jesus' perspective, it reveals a hidebound Jewish parochialism and a stubborn obtuseness.
          The Apostles were certainly not dumb. They knew the situation was grim. They knew that the last two times they had been to Jerusalem there had been repeated attempts on Christ's life. They knew the Sanhedrin, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Herodians, and the common people were now against Him. They, too, knew that matters had reached a crisis point. But, in their mind, Jesus was about to perform some stupendous miracle, and like a magician pulling a rabbit from a hat, astound everyone, and fix all of this in one fell swoop. They had seen Him walk on water, cleanse lepers, heal the blind and maim, and multiply loaves and fishes. They had seen Him transfigured before them in His glory. They had seen Him, just a few days ago, call Lazarus to walk out of his own tomb. Of course He could handle this problem, and end up on Israel's throne within the next week.
          We know that this was the Apostles' mindset because the subject which they had been discussing amongst themselves was the governmental structure under the messiah. Two of them, James and John, had actually gone so far so as to recruit their mother to ask Jesus for plum positions. 'Grant that these my two sons may sit, the one on thy right hand, and the other on the left, in thy kingdom' (Matthew 20.21).
          Jesus has faced this situation before, and dealt with it by telling the Apostles that the greatest positions in the kingdom was that of servant. (See Life of Christ 91) But apparently He must needs do so yet again, so He pauses, reorients Himself from trying to impress upon them the coming crucifixion, and uses this as yet another opportunity to prepare them to lead the infant Church in just a few short weeks.
          Thus it is that we come to this incredible passage about the necessity of and primacy of being a servant.

25 But Jesus called them unto him, and said, Ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they that are great exercise authority upon them.
26 But it shall not be so among you: but whosoever will be great among you, let him be your minister;
27 And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:
28 Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.

          Jesus was a revolutionary, not a reformer. (see Life of Christ 49) One of the ways He was revolutionary was in His teaching. His doctrine was entirely orthodox, but at the same time it was completely contrary to the spirit of the age. The tenor of His world, and of ours as well, says that to be great is to 'exercise authority.' Jack Welch and Lee Iacocca? Great bosses. Vince Lombardi and Phil Jackson? Great coaches. Douglas MacArthur and George Patton? Great generals. Teddy Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan? Great presidents. Each of these men, in their sphere, wielded tremendous amounts of authority over other people. Yet the institution that Jesus founded, the Church, which was soon to be entirely dependent on these 12 men, was to be completely different.
          In the church it is not about authority; it is about ministry.
          Please do not misunderstand me. There is a place in the local church for some authority to be exercised (Hebrews 13.7). After all, the word 'bishop' means, essentially, boss. I am a pastor, which is simply another word for bishop. As a pastor I have some responsibility to exercise authority over what happens in my church – but holding the position of pastor does not make me great. My life must still be marked by ministry. It is only in ministry that any of us will find greatness in God's kingdom.
          We have seen in this blog, over and over again, Jesus preparing the Apostles to lead the infant Church. In so doing He has been preparing them to deal with the difficulties and potential pitfalls that can come into the lives of church leaders. This is yet another one, namely, the natural tendency for the leader of a church to transition from an expectation of serving to an expectation of being served.
          Any pastor who takes leadership seriously will find that his sense of leadership gradually begins to bleed beyond the scriptural boundaries in which it ought to remain. He takes more and more upon himself, and his sense of his own importance inflates. Accompanying this, a good church responds to a good pastor's leadership with honor and respect and followship, but that, too, has its own dangers. Honor can become veneration, and veneration builds pride. This does not mean that a pastor should lead from behind, to quote one of Barack Obama's worst statements, nor does it mean that a congregation should not honor their pastor. It does mean, though, that the pastor simply must, at all hazards, maintain an inward primacy on being a servant.
          To Jesus, the Church was not about authority; it was about ministry. It was about giving His own life away for others, not about them giving their lives away for Him. In just a week He would prove it to them with the blood dripping down the old rugged cross.

          Dare we do any less?       

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Miracle Berry of Christianity

Life of Christ 138

The miracle berry
          Jesus and His Apostles are traveling through the remote rural region along the Galilee Samaria border in the weeks before His death. In just a few days they will travel east, and join the caravans of Jews flowing out of Galilee along the Jordan River route to Jerusalem for Passover.
          Jesus is discussing the case of a rich man who would not be convinced of his sin. I wrote about a similar occasion in Life of Christ 107. Flowing from this conversation Peter mentions that they, as Apostles, have given up everything to follow Christ. 'Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?' (Matthew 19.27).
          Jesus' response is that the Apostles would receive great rewards in Heaven (Matthew 19.28), but also here on Earth in this life. 'And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold' (Matthew 19.28). A twin passage in Luke 18 makes plain that Jesus meant prior to Heaven, 'manifold more in this present time.'
          There is, with many people, a fear that if they commit their lives fully to the Lord He is going to ask them to do something incredibly difficult. In essence, many people are afraid that God will ask them to be miserable for Him. Now, it is true that God has the right to ask me to be miserable. He created me, and thus owns me. In addition, He redeemed me, and thus owns me twice over. But the idea that God will spend my life in a way that makes me miserably, lonely, sad, and unhappy is not fair to God.
          It is in this context, that of God being good to His servants both in the next life and in this one, that the infamous story of Matthew 20.1-15 is set. This passage troubles many a saint for it appears to make of God an unfair taskmaster. After all, the boss pays the guy who worked one hour the same as the guy who worked twelve hours. In other words, God will spend my life in service for Him, and reward me with parsimonious stinginess in this life.
          Does God have the right to do that? Without equivocation, yes. But to view God that way is to view Him unfairly. He does not withhold from us rich blessings; He bestows on us rich blessings. It is not that God will unfairly pour out a wonderful blessing on some guy who does not deserve it at all, since he has not served Him much. Rather, it is that God will be so good to all of us, those who have served Him for a long time and those who have not.
          We do not serve a harsh, unkind, unfair, cruel, stingy, taskmaster of a God. We serve a loving, kind, gracious, generous, thoughtful, warm, giving God who loves to pour out blessings on us – both now and later.
          If you do not believe this just sit down and count your blessings. Go ahead; I dare you. It will not be long before the grateful Christian is singing, through tears, 'God is so good, God is so good, God is so good, He's so good to me.' Do not look in fear at God, afraid that He will ask you to spend your life in some terribly uncomfortable, unhappy, torturous way. 'O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man who trusteth in him' (Psalm 34.8). Beloved, let us fix firmly in our mind, as a permanent truth, that God is good – all the time.
          In West Africa you will find a berry that is sometimes called the miracle fruit. It is small and red, and when eaten it changes the taste buds on your tongue for a time. Every bitter or sour thing you eat tastes sweet instead. The New York Times said, 'The berry rewires the way the palate perceives sour flavors for an hour or so, rendering lemons as sweet as candy.'
          So it is with us. When we fix in our minds a permanent view of the goodness of God even the bad things that happen become palatable. As we dwell upon the goodness of God we need not fear that He will make us miserable in our service for Him. Instead, that service becomes sweet indeed, no matter where it takes us or what it asks.
Matthew Henry, 1662-1714
          Matthew Henry, the seventeenth century Welsh preacher who is quoted in sermons more than any other man probably, was robbed of all he possessed once. He wrote the following reaction in his journal: 'Let me be thankful first, because I was never robbed before; second, because, although they took my purse, they did not take my life; third, because, although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth, because it was I who was robbed, not I who robbed.'
          God does not ask His servants to give up everything, endure a life of misery, and then walk on golden streets. That is the devil's lie. God asks His servants to give up everything, yes, and He offers us Heaven at the end. But in the meantime, He pours out His goodness upon us with a prodigal liberality.

          Taste, and see.

Friday, October 17, 2014

God Be Merciful to Me a Sinner

Life of Christ 137

          Jesus and His Apostles are traveling through the remote region along the Samaria Galilee border. In just a few short days He will head east, across the Jordan River, and join the caravans of pilgrims traveling south from Galilee toward Jerusalem for the Passover.
          Our story today (Luke 18.9-14) flows out of the parable He has just told in relation to prayer. I speak of here of yesterday's story regarding the widow woman's importunate pleas to the unjust judge. Prayer, in order to be genuine prayer, must flow from a heart humbled and right before the Lord. On the other hand, prayer, or what sounds like and looks like prayer, that flows from a proud heart is not really prayer at all.
          To illustrate this, Jesus tells a story that contrasts two men who are both praying. Only one, though, is actually heard by God while the other is ignored by Him. Along the way, Christ teaches us not only this truth about prayer, but the key human lesson of the entire Bible.
          A proud Pharisee wanders into the Temple. Shepard well says in his book on the life of Christ that what he offers the Lord is not a prayer, but a soliloquy of self-congratulation. 'God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican' (Luke 18.11). This Pharisee boasts that his dedication is proven by the fact that he fasts twice a week. Fasting was only commanded on one day of the year in the Old Testament, but by Jesus' day it had become a weekly tradition. In the pharisaic mind, if once was good, then twice was better, and so it was with this particular Pharisee.
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector,
Gustave Dore, 1880
          The publican could not be contrasted in any greater way with this Pharisee. Publicans were the dregs of the Jewish world. Their honesty was so suspect that they were not allowed to testify in a court of law. They were viewed as just one small step above the unclean, the Gentiles. Such a man, constantly reminded by society on a daily basis of his own ill repute, was clearly convinced of his own sinful condition. He indicated it by his distance, his demeanor, his actions, and his words of humility. 'God, be merciful to me a sinner' (Luke 18.13).
          Clearly, God hears the humble man and not the proud one, regardless of the current condition of their life in relation to the Law. But along with this tremendous lesson Jesus makes a crystal clear statement. 'I tell you, this man went down to his house justified' (Luke 18.14). To be justified is to be legally declared innocent. It is not the same as being pardoned; it is better.
          The great question that has occupied spiritually minded for thousands of years was well voiced by Job in 2000 BC: 'How then can a man be justified with God? Or how can he be clean that is born of a woman?' (Job 25.4).
          Martin Luther, who birthed the Protestant Reformation (or, as my staunch Catholic neighbor calls it, the Protestant Revolution), and changed the course of history occupied himself with that question for years.
His initial attempt, entered into after lightning struck a tree near him, was to enter a monastery and become a monk. He found, though, once this was finally accomplished, that he still had no peace of mind in relation to his soul.
          He next attempted to become a really good monk. He succeeded, but he still had no peace for his soul.
          He was taught that if he viewed enough relics he could shave years of time off his sentence in purgatory. Robert Bainton, in his book on Luther, Here I Stand, tells us that the prince in Wittenburg took this seriously, and traveled all over Europe buying up relics. His collection was second only to what could be found in Rome.

This collection included one tooth of St. Jerome, of St. Chrysostam four pieces, of St. Bernard six, and of St. Augustine four; or Our Lady four hairs, three pieces of her cloak, four from her girdle, and seven from the veil sprinkled with the blood of Christ. The relics of Christ included one piece from his swaddling clothes, thirteen from his crib, one wisp of straw, one piece of gold brought by the Wise Men and three of the myrrh, one strand of Jesus’ beard, one of the nails driven into his hands, one piece of bread eaten at the Last Supper, one piece of the stone on which Jesus stood to ascend into heaven, and one twig of Moses’ burning bush. …calculated to reduce purgatory by 1443 years.
-Robert Bainton

          Luther taught in the seminary at Wittenburg, and viewed those relics up close and personal, yet he found no peace for his soul.
          He was told that if he traveled to Rome he would find the answers he so sorely sought. He did, and instead found only the grossest immorality and wickedness instead, and no peace for his soul.
          Finally, as a professor, he was assigned to teach the books of Romans and Galatians. As a good lifelong Catholic he, of course, had very little acquaintance with the actual Word of God. As he dug into those books he discovered a wonderful truth – that justification is by faith, not by works, or relics, or indulgences. Finally, he wrote sola, the Latin word for 'alone', in the margin of his Bible next to Romans 1.17, 'the just shall live by faith.' How does justification come? How is a man justified? How does a man live before God? By faith.
          Paul makes that painfully obvious in Romans 3. When a man finally humbles himself, and becomes overwhelmed with his own sinful condition (Romans 3.10-20) he realizes he can do nothing to obtain justification on his own, or anyone else's merits. The proper payment, 'propitiation', is the blood of Christ, and it is only through faith in the merits of Christ that justification comes. 'Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law' (Romans 3.28).
          Those silly theologians and scholars who assert that Jesus preached one gospel, of works, and that Paul preached another, of grace, have holes in their head big enough through which to drive a Mack truck.

          'God, be merciful to me a sinner.'

          'This man went down to his house justified.'