Slowing down, looking around the garden
Luke 24: So thick-headed!
The blazing truth of the resurrection is so bright that it overwhelms everything else in this passage; and well it should. After all, it’s the center piece of the gospel message. Still, since I’ve been here many times before I can afford to shade my eyes and look around a bit. Somewhere around the third or fourth level of importance I see a bit of a theme here. Right after the resurrection Jesus reminds the women that he told them that all this would happen. “Then they remembered Jesus’ words.” Then, the women to go the disciples with the best news ever told, but “the apostles didn’t believe a word of it.” Peter, though, goes to the tomb. He “walked away puzzled, shaking his head.” Later, Jesus himself joins two disciples on the way to Emmaus. They’re so clueless about everything that he calls them “thick-headed” and “slow-hearted.” That night Jesus appears to all his disciples at once, but “they still couldn’t believe what they were seeing.” All of this takes place following the resurrection. These people, followers of Jesus, his friends, his disciples, his supporters, struggle to get their heads and hearts around what this is all about. So, I sit here more than 2000 years after the fact reading, once again, the story of the resurrection. I can draw from a rich tradition of theology, doctrine, and scholarship of the Bible. Still, I wonder: do I really get it? Have I gotten so used to the blazing light of the resurrection that I fail to embrace it? If so, I need to stop everything else and go back to the garden and spend some time there.
Take Away: For the resurrection to matter to me I have to take time to get my heart around it and fully embrace it.
Luke 23: He seems harmless enough to me.
Pilate says some interesting things concerning Jesus. He asks, “What shall I do with Jesus?” a question that has inspired many a sermon. He asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He also muses, “What is truth?” He presents the battered and bloody Jesus to the Jews saying, “Here is the man.” Then, he washes his hands and says, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.” As Jesus is crucified the Jews complain about what he’s written as his crime. He responds, “What I’ve written, I’ve written.” Today, as I read of Pilate declaring to the Jews the innocence of Jesus the translator gives me his words as, “He seems harmless enough to me.” I understand the meaning of the phrase. The Jews say Jesus is a dangerous person, influencing people to rebel against Roman rule. Jesus, of course, never does anything like that. Pilate’s investigating this charge and, as far as the Romans are concerned, he concludes that Jesus is a harmless person. Of course, that characterization is absolutely wrong. Jesus is dangerous beyond words. He intends to rule the world. Rome is, in fact, a mere bump in the road as far as Jesus’ intentions are concerned. You see, for those who love him and give themselves to him, Jesus is the most wonderful friend they’ll ever have. To this day, Jesus invites all who will to come to him and find this to be true. However, a day is coming when this meek Jesus will take his rightful place. At that time, this “harmless” Jesus will be in charge. At that time, every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.
Take Away: Far from harmless – Jesus is Lord God.
Keeping a safe distance
Luke 22: Peter followed, but at a safe distance.
It’s the awful night before the crucifixion of Christ. Not long ago Peter and the other disciples promised their loyalty to Jesus. Now, though, he stands before the Chief Priest, alone. The disciples have fled in fear but Luke tells us Peter, under cover of darkness has followed. He’s close enough to see what’s going on but far enough back as to not be identified as a follower of Jesus. I fear that this describes many Christians and at certain times, maybe most of us. We’re following, but not “that” close. After all, sometimes being a follower of Jesus is just plain unhandy, not to mention possibly dangerous for some. For instance, someone who doesn’t smell very good needs some personal, up close attention. If I’m not careful, my revulsion will win out over my discipleship and I won’t even offer a cup of water in Jesus’ Name. Or, say someone at work isn’t a very nice person. People tend to give them a wide berth. Will I get close enough to show them Jesus? Because of the danger Peter follows, but at a safe distance. The thing is, before long he isn’t following at all.
Take Away: I want to follow Jesus closely enough that there’s no doubt that I’m with him.
Luke 21: I’m not just saying this for some future generation, but for this one, too.
Jesus’ description of future events is sobering. He describes false teachers, betrayal, wars, earthquakes, persecution, destruction, and other huge events. Since I know that some of this already happened I’m tempted to think I’m clear of at least some of the things our Lord describes. Then I run head long into Jesus’ declaration that these words are for all of his followers. He says that coming big events are obvious to those who pay attention even as the coming of summer is forecast by the budding of the trees. Our Lord wants his followers to pay attention, not so much to specific things, like the rise of a false Messiah, but to the general flow of things. After all, a person who watches just one tree as a predictor of summer might or might not see new leaves. However, one who watches an entire forest will see proof abundant that things are changing. On one hand, I think it’s a mistake to list a few “signs” and focus in on just them. After all, one might have misread the meaning of the passage in the first place. However, if I pay attention I might just see that big things are brewing. At that time, I don’t have to be afraid, according to Jesus, but I do want to be sure I’m ready for what I believe is coming.
Take Away: Even if I miss some of the signs I’ll be okay if I stay ready.
Luke 20: Give Caesar what is his and give God what is his.
It’s a pretty good “gotcha” question designed to get Jesus into trouble with either the Romans or with the devout Jews. The specific tax in question requires payment with a specific coin. That coin bears the image of Caesar. Pious Jews know what the Commandment says about “graven images.” They avoid such things, knowing they are sin. The Romans say they have to carry with them a coin for tax payment that bears, not only a graven image, but, specifically, the image of a conquering king who considers himself divine. If Jesus says he thinks they ought to pay taxes the pious Jews will have reason to accuse him of advocating the breaking of the Commandment. Of course, if he says otherwise, he’ll fall into the trap that’s being set for him, setting him up as an enemy of Rome, a troublemaker. The Romans know how to handle troublemakers. Jesus, though, calmly asks for one of the hated coins. Casually glancing at it he asks whose image it is engraved on the coin. Everyone knows it’s the image of Caesar. Then he hands the coin back, remarking that since its Caesar’s picture the coin is his anyway. If he wants it, give it to him. In God’s Kingdom, that coin is worthless. The “flip side” (pun intended) is that they’re to give to God what’s his. What is it that I’m to give to the Lord? I think the same test used on the coin helps me answer that question and the answer is given to us long before even the Ten Commandments are given. In the very first chapter of the Bible we find this: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him.” If I’m obligated to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s I’m also obligated to give to God what’s God’s. It may be marred and soiled, but I’m created in God’s image. My life is to be given to him.
Take Away: If a coin bearing Caesar’s image belongs to Caesar, then a human being created in God’s image belongs to the Lord.
Crossroads in time
Luke 19: All this because you didn’t recognize and welcome God’s personal visit.
It’s the Triumphal Entry. As many cheer, giving Jesus a royal welcome into Jerusalem others harden in their opposition to him. In less than a week Jesus will be dead. Our Lord weeps, not for himself but for Jerusalem. This city is at a crossroads in time. This day could have been much more than the Triumphal Entry. It could have ushered in a new, transformed age of peace on Earth, good will to men. This week could have been a week without a cross. Instead, the results of these days for Jerusalem will be horror, pain, suffering, and destruction. It’s a moment in time. Listen, I don’t claim to grasp the theology of all this but Jesus says it didn’t have to be the way it was. He wept as he considered how different things might have been. As I deal with this passage from a devotional perspective I wonder how often people come to such pivotal moments. I wonder how aware they are that they’re about to walk into a trip wire that will change their lives forever. My consolation is that in the case of the passage before us Jerusalem has had hundreds of years of opportunities to prepare for this moment. It’s not in ignorance that they’re about to step off this cliff. I have to believe that in smaller, personal ways that it’s the same for us as we arrive at our crossroads in time.
Take Away: I may not always recognize the significance of life events so I must rely on the help of the Holy Spirit as I negotiate life.
When Jesus shows mercy
Luke 18: Jesus! Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!
On the outskirts of Jericho a poor blind man spends his day listening for the sound of footsteps that he might beg for some loose change from some passing person. On this day, though, voices raised in excitement are drawing near and he begins shouting out the question, “What’s going on?” Finally, someone responds, “Its Jesus of Nazareth, the miracle worker. He and his disciples are coming this way.” The blind man begins shouting at the top of his voice, “Jesus! Son of David! Mercy, have mercy on me!” Several tell him to be quiet and the sound of the crowd nearly drowns him out anyway. He shouts all the louder, “Have mercy on me!” Then, a calm, authoritative voice is heard. Jesus is right there in front of him. “What do you want from me?” he asks. The blind man answers, “Master, I want to see again.” “Okay, do it,” Jesus replies. Light, color, and movement flood in as sight is restored. As I read this story, I’m the blind man. Life is empty, desperate, and hopeless. Then, Jesus passes by. In my own words, I shout out “Have mercy on me!” And he does. Thank you, Lord, for your light giving mercy in my life.
Take Away: Its mercy we need and its mercy we receive from the Lord.
Big faith, little faith
Luke 17: There is no “more” or “less” in faith.
They’ve seen Jesus do amazing things. On some days he’s healed so many people that they couldn’t even keep track of them all. He’s fed thousands and walked on water. He then explains it all as the result of faith. They’re convinced so they ask Jesus to give them more faith. His response is that with faith there’s no such thing as more or less. You either have it or you don’t. A “little bit” of faith is as powerful as a “lot” of faith. At least that’s what I hear Jesus saying in this passage. At other times, though, Jesus talks about people having “great” faith and he sometimes chides the disciples for having “little” faith. Here’s what I think Jesus is saying: when I have faith I believe God can do anything. When I have great faith I apply that belief in some extraordinary way. It’s not my faith that’s large or small. Rather, it’s my application of what I already believe that can be “great” or “small.” Like the disciples, I don’t really need to believe in God more. I already believe that he is Almighty and acting in the world. However, also like the disciples, I do need to trust him with more of my life, even the areas that are so big and menacing that I tend to be overwhelmed by them.
Take Away: Lord, I believe. Help me with my unbelief.
Playing it smart
Luke 16: I want you to be smart in the same way.
It’s an interesting story for Jesus to tell because the hero’s a crook. This guy mismanages his bosses’ money and then, when he’s caught he mismanages it some more in a quick witted move to find a soft landing elsewhere. Jesus doesn’t advocate that his followers be good at making shady deals, but he does urge us to play it smart. At one level I can respond by spiritualizing the story. That is I can come away having been reminded that I’m to be smart in how I go about the business of the Lord. For instance, I can use my wits to find ways to reach out to lost people and not just stand for the status quo all the time. However, I don’t think this is the primary application of this story. Rather, Jesus is talking about living smart, being alert to opportunities, and taking advantage of openings. When I see an investment opportunity I’m not to turn away piously declaring that “God will take care of me.” Rather, I’m to explore the possibility that the investment opportunity might be God’s way of doing just that. Jesus’ story isn’t a license for me to take unfair advantage of people but it is a reminder that Christians should live smart lives and not think we’re too spiritual to take advantage of legitimate opportunities that come our way.
Take Away: A person can be ethical in the highest sense of the word and still be a good in business.
Jesus likes people of doubtful reputation
Luke 15: A lot of men and women of doubtful reputation were hanging around Jesus.
One problem the religious leaders have with Jesus is the type of people he attracts. He gets along with prostitutes and tax collectors, the very ones they use in their sermons as the kind of people who should be avoided at all cost. Jesus, though, welcomes them. He doesn’t tell them to go clean up their acts and then come back. Rather, he welcomes them just as they are. When the religious leaders complain about this, Jesus tells three “lost and found” stories. In each story that which is lost is of real value and in each there’s great rejoicing when it’s found. The religious leaders might think of these folks of doubtful reputation as worthless fodder for the fires of hell. Jesus, however, places great value on them and when one of them comes and listens and then chooses to be a friend of his he thinks a celebration is in order. As I read these lost and found stories I fear I’m less like Jesus and more like the religious leaders who are represented as the elder son in the final parable. In our society a Christian can pretty much saturate his or her life with “Christian stuff.” If I handle things right, I can avoid these people of “doubtful reputation” and not have to deal with them at all. If I do that, though, I have more in common with the religious leaders than I do with Jesus.
Take Away: Jesus loves lost people and so should I.