This week’s reading is from Luke 18. Jesus talked about two men who went to pray, the self-righteous Pharisee and the sinner. It is the story of two men who did the right thing, at the right time, in the right place, but one of them did it the wrong way. They both went to pray, but one did it the wrong way. The Pharisee was a devoutly religious man. He was very interested in spiritual things. He was decent and upright. He was honest in his business dealings. He was liberal with his money. He was really a good man. He was loyal to his church, and he was generally a decent man. He would be welcomed in any church today. On the other hand we have the sinner, the tax collector! He was as opposite of the Pharisee as black is from white. He would not be welcomed in most churches today. Tax collectors were a bad bunch of people. So bad that throughout the scriptures the word ‘tax collector’ was often used to refer to the lowest form of sinner. They were the bottom of the spiritual food chain. They were ‘exhibit A of true sinners!’ Both men went to church to pray, both were church goers. They both believed in God, they both prayed. But one got it right and one got it all wrong.
We tend to put people into TWO categories: the good and the bad. God puts people into two categories, but His two categories are: the PROUD and the HUMBLE. He doesn’t put people into the categories of ‘good and bad.’ Does anyone want to guess why not? It is because no one is good before God. We are all sinners. The sooner we realize this the better our lives will be. You may look good on the outside. You may do a lot of things right, but remember this. God looks at the heart. Before God there is neither Pharisee nor tax collector. Before God, all men are sinners; the only difference is some admit it and others do not. That is what this parable is all about. The danger of being self-righteous is that you can’t see it. The Pharisee was so proud of his goodness and righteousness that he was blind to the fact that he was still a sinner. The tax collector on the other hand knew he was messed up and was willing to admit it to God. Jesus said this man’s prayer was heard and his sins were forgiven. This is what is called the sinner’s prayer. It is simple and yet powerful. Anyone can pray it. “He who exalts himself is abased” God won’t hear the prayer of the proud. The gate of heaven is so low no one can enter save upon his knees. Remember it is possible to do the right thing the wrong way! How do you pray?
This week’s reading is from Luke chapter 15:1-2. It says that “all the tax collectors and sinners drew near to hear Jesus. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, ‘This Man receives sinners and eats with them.’” Jesus didn’t only hang with all sorts of people but all sorts of people were attracted to Jesus. Why was this? I believe it was because Jesus genuinely loved being with people and loved them for who they were. He didn’t care what others thought of Him or them. He did not give off that ‘holier than thou’ feeling. This sheds some insight on true righteousness and holiness. We are told that Jesus was without sin. He lived His entire life without once sinning or rebelling against God. He was truly righteous and holy. Yet His righteousness and holiness did not repel sinners, but rather it drew them to Him. Now make no mistake, Jesus did not hide His holiness or righteousness and just try to be a nice guy. These sinners were especially attracted to Him BECAUSE they knew He was a Holy man and that He cared for them. It has been said, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Jesus genuinely cared about them and they knew it. I would like it to be said of me and of Vineyard Community Church. “We receive sinners and eat with them.”
The Pharisees were mad because they thought that since Jesus received the sinners and ate with them He was also condoning their sin. Presence does not necessarily mean participation. It is possible to ‘receive’ people who are doing things contrary to God’s laws without ‘condoning’ their sin. Many Christians struggle with this today. They feel that they ‘must’ point out a person’s sin if they ‘receive’ them. But that is not what Jesus did. He just loved them and received them. When it came time to talk about certain issues, Jesus spoke freely and lovingly as He was led by the Holy Spirit. Are sinners drawn to you? Do you have the welcome mat out in front of your life? Are people invited to come in, even though they may be “sinners?” Can you ‘receive’ sinners without ‘condoning’ their sinful ways?
Whenever bad things happen, people want to know if God is judging them. Whenever disasters come people want to know if God is judging them. When this country was divided in the Civil War, many felt it was the judgment of God upon the United States. When we were bombed at Pearl Harbor, and drawn into WWII, many felt it was judgment of God. When the Twin Towers were destroyed many felt it was the judgment of God.
In Luke 13:1-9 there is a story about a terrible tragedy that happened in Jerusalem. A huge tower fell and killed eighteen people. They were working for Pilate and they were looked at as traitors by the strict Jews. The Jews asked Jesus why did this happen? Was this the judgment of God? Jesus said it was not God’s judgment on these people and then He warned them all to repent.
The Jews commonly believed sin and suffering were ALWAYS connected. Like Eliphaz, one of Job’s miserable comforters, they would say, “Who that was innocent, ever perished?” (Job 4:7) What does Jesus say here? “Do you think they were worse sinners?” “I tell you NO” What Jesus is saying is that we are ALL SINNERS. We cannot judge a man evil by his sufferings in this world. Nor can we necessarily judge a man upright because of his appearance of wealth. Sometimes there is a connection, but it is not a blanket policy with citizens of the Kingdom of God. Rather than judge a man who has had calamity befall him, we should take warning. Realize that we are just as much a sinner as they are and those things could easily happen to us. We are living in a broken world and sometimes bad things happen, not because a person is bad but because this world is broken and we live in it. The fact is, sometimes innocent people suffer. Understanding your own sinfulness and God’s mercy towards us, helps us to show mercy to others in time of need rather than a calloused judgmental remark.
This week’s reading is from Luke 12:12. Jesus talked about how to respond when we are challenged about our faith. When these times happen Jesus said, “Don’t worry, the Holy Spirit will tell you what to say.” This is a great principle to live by. Rather than always figuring out ahead of time what we will say to people if we get in a difficult situation or how we should express our faith to people if we are ever asked, it would be better to live by the 12:12 principle. This is the principle that says, “Live your life in close communion to the Holy Spirit every day. Then you will always have the right thing to say!” This is how Jesus lived His life and this is why He always had such incredible responses when He was challenged by people. This is where He came up with the answer, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s,” when He was challenged about paying the Temple tax or when He said, “He that is without sin cast the first stone.” He did not plan in advance what He was going to say when He was in difficult situations. He lived in close communion with the Holy Spirit and listened instead! What a great way to live.
Now this is not an excuse not to study God’s Word. This is not an excuse to be lazy and not be aware of what is going on in our community. This is a principle that helps us to keep the main thing, the main thing! If we don’t have that close relationship with the Holy Spirit then we are likely to start developing our own strategies and rules and regulations on how to live and how to tell others about God’s Kingdom. This then becomes nothing more than a religion. This is the mistake the Pharisees made. They knew all the rules and regulations but they did not know the voice of God’s Holy Spirit. How about you, what principle are you living by?
This week’s reading is from Luke chapter 9, when Jesus fed the multitudes. Jesus had been preaching all day and at the end of the day the disciples think they should send the people home so they can get something to eat. Jesus decides to feed them, over 5,000 men plus women and children, with just five loaves and two fish. These people could have gone home and eaten. It would not have been a big deal for them to not eat for one whole day! But Jesus just wanted to bless them. This kind of miracle was motivated more by kindness that it was need. He wanted to give them a picnic lunch for free. Not only did He feed all of them, but it says they were ‘filled.” The Greek word used here means ‘glutted!’ It means they were filled like you are filled at Thanksgiving! This was an ‘all you can eat’ buffet! Then on top of that we read that they had twelve baskets left over. I can only guess that each of the twelve disciples got to take a basket home to their families as well. For those who think that God is only interested in our ‘needs’ this story shows He is a God who sometimes just wants to abundantly bless people beyond our needs! Go ahead and ask Him!