Table #1: Dining with sinners

"And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them." Luke 5:29

Read Luke 5:27-32.

What type of person or what group of people would make you feel real uncomfortable to share a meal with? Think about this for a moment. Addicts? Sexual predators? Legalists? Rich people? Poor people? Someone of a different race or ethnicity? Homosexuals? People dying of cancer? Perhaps you'd feel uncomfortable sharing a meal with your extended family because of severed relationships. Be honest with yourself.

Now take that feeling you have toward a group of people and imagine seeing Jesus sitting among them sharing a meal. What would your initial reaction and feelings be? If I were honest, my first thought would probably be, "What is he doing with them?" "Of all the people these are the least deserving to be at that table." "Why would he extend grace to them?"

Turning to the text, we are told that Jesus calls a tax collector to follow him. Now I think it'd be helpful to know something about tax collectors to understand why the following actions of Jesus were so repugnant to the Pharisees. A tax collector, also known as a toll collector, was "a person given to dishonesty and abuse of authority" and viewed "in the wider Greco-Roman world as a person of low status." "Toll collectors as a group were despised as snoops, corrupt, the social equivalent of pimps and informants." (See Joel Green, Luke, p. 245-246) This really puts things into perspective! Stop for a moment and imagine sharing a meal with pimps. Now imagine seeing Jesus with pimps. Or, imagine seeing your pastor or your Bible study leader at a table with pimps. Get the picture?

If nothing else I want you to hear this today: To dine with Jesus is also to dine with sinners. We don't get to pick and choose who gets the invitation to follow Jesus. We don't get to pick and choose to whom we are to take the gospel. It simply doesn't work like that. If Jesus was lowly enough to go to the least desirable, the rejects of society, then so must we.

Sometimes as Christians we want to show grace to whom we want to show grace; but God's grace pushes the limits we so often put in place. We think that we are somehow more redeemable, more deserving of grace, than others. The fact of the matter is none of us is deserving. (Read Romans 1-2!) That is what makes grace grace. It is unmerited, undeserving. While the Pharisees were shocked by the group of people Jesus chose to associate with, it was for these people he came. Notice that Jesus doesn't try to defend them as innocent people. He acknowledges to the Pharisees who they are -- "sinners" (v. 32). In fact Jesus uses an analogy in which this group of people is compared to those who are sick (v. 31). What Jesus said might be interpreted as harsh in today's postmodern America. We don't want to call sin sin or people sinners. But if we don't acknowledge sin and our state as sinners, then we will never think we need forgiveness of sins or a Savior.

Notice too that although Jesus calls these people sinners, he doesn't expect for them to stay in their current state. Rather, he associates himself with them so that they might be transformed into the image of God through the process of repentance. His mission is to redeem people from sin.

But this passage tells us more than who Jesus dined with; it tells us about the identity of Jesus and his work. Here are some further reflections from this table:

1. Jesus is divine, the Son of God. If you were to read Luke all the way through, you would find that the author is concerned with the identity of Jesus. When an angel appears to Mary in chapter 1 he tells her the baby she will conceive "will be called the Son of the Most High," and "will be called holy -- the Son of God." Then in 5:17-26, right before our passage, Jesus does something that only God Himself can do -- forgive sins. Jesus forgives the sins of the paralytic, and the words of the Pharisees are very poignant here. "Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (v. 21). They recognize that only God has the power to forgive sins. Jesus then heals the paralytic so that "you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins" (v. 24).

2. Flowing out of his identity as God is Jesus' mission and work of forgiveness of sins. His mission and identity go hand in hand; they are inseparable. Let's look at Levi's story. Luke tells us that Jesus calls Levi to follow him. The invitation to follow was an invitation to having a relationship with Jesus, to become a disciple. What is implied in following Jesus is repentance, seen in the act that follows in which Levi leaves everything behind. At first glance we might think he just left behind his career, his place of work, his possessions or salary. But then Luke tells us Levi makes a great feast in his home and invites a large group to come, which would have been very costly. Perhaps Levi did leave behind his work, but most likely what he left behind was his life of sin. He left behind that which was displeasing to God. We can perhaps see it symbolized in that Levi was sitting when Jesus called him to follow him and then Levi stood up and left everything. His repentance was active, a complete change. If we read Levi's calling in conjunction with what Jesus tells the Pharisees in v. 32, I think it is fair to say that Levi's change wasn't just a moral or economic or career change but a heart change. Levi had found forgiveness of sins.

3. I love how once Levi found forgiveness of sins he invited all of his friends to come meet Jesus. We aren't told if or how many people at that table also found forgiveness of sins but it is very likely given the context that many did. Isn't it such an awesome thing that when people experience the grace of God they want to share it with others? All the more reason that we should share our tables with people who need to hear about the love of God.

4. We often want to separate the identity of Jesus from the mission of Jesus. We also have a tendency to reduce the mission of Jesus to something that is merely physical and not spiritual. In the name of social justice, we give people bread and medicine. We want to change their economic status and provide them with education. We want to emulate Jesus by associating with the least desirable. These are all great things! But if we do these things apart from the identity of Jesus and his mission of forgiveness of sins then we are no longer particularly Christian. If we don't couple our social acts with the message that Jesus, who was fully God, also became fully human, to bring salvation and to forgive our sins so that we might be reconciled to God, then we really do not know the Jesus of Scripture. On the other hand, if we preach this but do not extend God's grace to the unlikely of people and dine with sinners, then we aren't being obedient either. We must do both.

So this Easter, we will dress up and look our best. We'll go to church and then have a family meal. Let me ask you, will you consider getting dirty and dining with those who most desperately need to hear the Easter story? Will you be messengers of God's grace to them?

(I took some of this material from a Bible study I wrote for mymissionfulfilled.)

Come and Dine

Table #2: The uninvited guest 

Seeing Is Believing?

A devotional reading/reflection on Luke 24. Have you ever heard or read something so outrageous that you said or thought to yourself, "I'll have to see it to believe it.”? Have you done this with God? Is the reason you say you don’t believe God’s Word about His Son Jesus Christ because it just seems too outrageous to be true? What if you are a so-called believer, but you don’t know what to do on those days you struggle to believe God’s Word?

Read all of Luke 24.

The disciples of Jesus (this includes the Twelve and the greater group) should not have been surprised or caught off guard by Jesus’ death and later by the empty tomb. Rather they should have expected it if they had believed Jesus’ prophecies about his own death and resurrection and Scripture’s testimony of the Messiah. But the simple fact was they didn’t believe or understand Jesus when he said that he was going to die and raise on the third day. It wasn’t as if Jesus said these words in passing and probably many of the disciples didn’t hear it. On the contrary, Luke tells us there were at least three distinct times when Jesus foretold his death and resurrection (see Luke 9:21-22; 9:43-45; and 18:31-34).

In case we think maybe the disciples didn’t hear Jesus when he foretold his death and resurrection, Luke records the angels’ words to the women disciples when they were at the empty tomb. “Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise,” (Luke 24:6-8) and “they remembered his words” (v. 8). You can’t remember something if you never heard it in the first place. Jesus also tells all the disciples in 24:44, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you… .” They had heard this Word but had not received it or believed it. They wanted proof.

The women were dumbfounded when they found the tomb empty, because they had not believed Jesus’ teaching about these things and because they didn’t see Him. Then the disciples to whom the women told their story did not believe the women and the words spoken by the angels, because Jesus they did not see (Luke 24:24). They wanted to see in order to believe. Why else would they be hiding in a room with the doors locked “for fear of the Jews” (John 20:19) if they believed that Jesus had conquered death?

Then there were the two unnamed disciples, not of the Twelve but of the larger group, who left Jerusalem to go to a little village called Emmaus because they were sad. Jesus had been killed and now his body was missing. (Had they believed He was alive, they would’ve stayed in Jerusalem waiting to see Him and would have been anything but sad!) Catch this irony: The disciples wanted to see Jesus for proof to believe, but when Jesus showed up it was their unbelief that kept them from seeing Him. Luke 24:16 says they saw Jesus but they didn’t see Jesus. They saw a man but they didn’t recognize him as the One they were looking for!

Catch this again: Their unbelief kept them from seeing Jesus. They didn’t need to see Jesus in order to believe; they needed to believe in order to see Jesus.

Here are some quick take home thoughts:

1. At the end of the day there will never be enough “proof” to give reason to believe. Sure, there is lots of great proof of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ministry. In fact I think Luke 24 is a great apologetics text. Hundreds witnessed Jesus resurrected; the disciples went from fear and hiding to giving their lives even to death in order to make Jesus known among the nations. There’s no logical reason for that change other than believing and seeing the resurrected Jesus. The New Testament is very reliable as far as ancient texts go. But, if you are struggling with unbelief, it is likely because this isn’t enough for you. You want to see in order to believe. You want just one more testimony, one more proof. Scripture says, though, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. … And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him” (Hebrews 11:3, 6).

2. Like the prayer of the father of a child with a demon who came to Jesus in Mark 9, most days our prayer should go like his, “Lord, I believe! Help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) This prayer says I believe as much as I am able to, but I need your help and grace O God where unbelief exists. Belief isn’t just a one-sided action; it is something that we are only able to do with the help of God. Some days it is easier to believe; other days it seems near impossible. On these days, especially, cry out to God to help supply you with the faith you need. And when you believe then you will see God and Him do great things.

Friday Devotion

The following are prayers and readings from The Book of Common Prayer, revised in 2006. I pray it will be a blessing to you.

A Collect for Fridays

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other than the way of life and peace; through the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Christ our Passover (1 Cor. 5:7-8; Rom.6:9-11; 1 Cor. 15:20-22)

Allelua. Christ our Passover has been sacrificed for us; therefore let us keep the feast, Not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. Allelua. Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death that he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So also consider yourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Jesus Christ our Lord. Allelua. Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia.

The Collect

Lord God, almighty and everlasting Father, you have brought us in safety to this new day: Preserve us with your mighty power, that we may not fall into sin, nor be overcome by adversity; and in all we do, direct us to the fulfilling of your purpose; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Wicked Servant

Jesus told his disciples the following parable:

“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matt. 18:23-35)

I mentioned in a previous post that a couple of weeks ago I knocked down my friend’s mailbox. And when I say knocked down, I mean splintered the wood post holding up the mailbox into two pieces. The entire mailbox had to be replaced. I was so embarrassed. I asked for forgiveness and offered to pay for the replacement/repair of the mailbox. My friends not only forgave me but waived the debt — out of mercy and kindness.

The week before this incident my father-in-law, who lives with us, accidently broke my creamer container that matches my sugar container. I was so sad because I had become attached to my creamer using it every morning to warm up my Coffee Mate creamer to go in my coffee. I had bought it at Home Goods, so you know it was very inexpensive. He apologized profusely. Even though I accepted his apology, I told my FIL that he would have to buy me a new one. Last week (a week after the mailbox incident) my creamer came back to mind. I got hot. I still did not have a new creamer and I had a good mind to walk down the hall and demand money so that I could go buy myself a new creamer.

But then I stopped. Or rather the Holy Spirit stopped me bringing to mind and heart this parable from Matthew 18. I was that wicked servant! Having been forgiven a huge debt of hundreds of dollars, I was about to go demand a debt owed me of $10. Embarrassed. Convicted. Ashamed. I walked back to the kitchen and asked God’s forgiveness right then and there.

But it wasn’t just this incident that came to mind. How often have I been forgiven by my husband for a $50 splurge in a weak moment on a piece of clothing or household item only to jump on his back for going over budget by spending $2 on a muffin at his work? How often have friends and family forgiven me for a quick-tempered moment or hurtful words spoken by me only then for me to hold a grudge for something spoken by them to me in haste? The list goes on, but the fact remains that even though I want and desire mercy and forgiveness I often don’t want to give it to others. I don’t treat others as I wish to be treated. And, no matter what sin or debt others do or owe me it is nothing compared to the debt of sin that I’ve committed against God. And if God can forgive me of that great of debt, then I can forgive others of smaller debt.

This parable reminds me then of three things:

1. I have been forgiven a tremendous debt by God.

2. Out of my gratitude that I have been forgiven much, I should want to and should practice forgiving others’ debt to me.

3. If I don’t forgive as God has forgiven me, my Father, my God will show me the same unkindness that I have shown to others. Do I fear God enough? Do I believe God to keep His promises?

“Father, thank you for forgiving my debt of sin against you. Now, may I go and do the same to others showing kindness, love and mercy in my words, thoughts and deeds. Amen.”



Jesus, the Adopted Son

IMG_1988 Devotional: Jesus, the Adopted Son

Read Matthew 1:18-25

Christmas has ended and therefore many of us have moved on from the birth narratives of Jesus. But, if I may, I’d like to draw our attention back to the part of the narrative that focuses on the role of Joseph.

While there are several things we can learn about Jesus’ birth in the above passage, I’d like to focus on Joseph’s role and how it fit into God’s plan of redemption.

Today’s Truth Statement: Included in God’s sovereign plan of the adoption of men and women through His Son Jesus was the plan of His Son’s own adoption.

Let’s first give our passage some context.

In the book of Isaiah we find prophecies concerning the Messiah, Israel’s coming Savior. One of those prophecies is found in Isaiah 7:14, which says, “The virgin shall conceive and bear a son.” We also learn that the Messiah will sit “on the throne of David.” (9:7) Jeremiah also prophesizes about the coming Messiah being a descendant of David (see Jer. 23:5).

But here’s the problem with these prophesies. At that time, someone’s lineage was traced through the father. A son of David would come through the father’s line. But if the Messiah is born of a virgin, and as Matthew tells us, of the Holy Spirit, then Jesus has no father to trace a lineage back to David. So how is it going to be possible for Jesus to come through an earthly father’s lineage when His father isn’t earthly?

The writer of Matthew wants us to know that Jesus IS the promised Messiah because he fulfills of both prophecies mentioned above. So Matthew begins with the genealogy of Joseph, demonstrating that Joseph is of the line of David. Then Matthew does something unusual. Instead of saying Joseph, the father of Jesus, he writes, “Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.” But how, if Jesus is not the son of Joseph, can he be the descendant of David?

Matthew 1:18-25 answers this for us.

Jesus was born of a virgin.

The text tells us that Joseph learns his fiancé Mary was pregnant and not by him as “he resolved to divorce her quietly.” Being engaged at this time had legal ratifications. Engagements couldn’t be called off easily like today. A formal divorce would have to ensue in order to break off an engagement, and engagements could be broken if the girl to be married had been unfaithful. Joseph assumes she had been unfaithful until an angel from God tells him that it is by the Holy Spirit that she is pregnant. Thus, Jesus fulfills Scripture that he is born of a virgin.

Jesus was adopted.

By verse 21 we finally understand God’s plan and we see an answer to the dilemma mentioned above. Joseph must adopt Jesus thereby making him Joseph’s heir and a son of David. Jesus needed an earthly father in order for God’s plan of redemption to be fulfilled. God chose Joseph and Joseph obeyed. Adoptions in the Greco-Roman world were legalized when the father gave the child his or her name. By Joseph calling his name Jesus, Jesus’ adoption was made complete and Scripture was fulfilled.

The importance of Jesus’ adoption.

After the birth narratives of Jesus in the Gospels, Joseph isn’t mentioned again. But Joseph’s role and calling was very important to God’s plan. If Joseph (or any other man for that matter) had not obeyed God and adopted His Son, not only would Scripture not have been fulfilled but Jesus would have been seen as a illegitimate child. His adoption was a necessary part to God’s plan.

So what can we take away from this passage?

I am sure there are more than what I list here but here are a couple thoughts.

  1. We can be sure that Jesus is the Messiah, the One who God speaks about in the Old Testament. And we can be sure that Jesus’ own story is one that includes adoption!
  2. Like Jesus needed an earthly father to adopt him, even more so do we need a heavenly Father to adopt us! Only through adoption do we become descendants of Abraham and heirs with Jesus Christ (Romans 8:15-17). God has done what is necessary to guarantee our adoption and to give us a new name, but it is not complete until we accept the righteousness of God through His Son Jesus. God has always had a heart for the orphans, and His plan has always been that of adoption. Jesus was willing to come to earth as an earthly orphan (so to speak) to be adopted so that we as orphans might be adopted by His Father. Praise God!