Archive for April, 2015

Luke 20:20-26 — Have you, as a guy, ever been asked this question by your wife or girlfriend, “Does this dress make me look fat?” This question is the killer of all husband/boyfriend questions. There is no right answer to this question. Run. Run away! It is almost as bad as “Do you think she is pretty?” Run, boy, run. Most of us men are simple. We just want food, clothing, shelter, and sex. All of the other things in life are just window dressing, what has to be done to make women happy. For men, if the basic needs of life are met, life is good. These types of no-win questions leave us in stunned, fumbling silence. Uh, well, ummm is the usual response. I only mention the glorious differences between men and women that make the world go round here because the no-win question plays a role in our Scripture lesson this morning.

Another example would be from the fictional series, Star Trek. The Kobayashi Maru test. It is a no-win scenario.The notional primary goal of the exercise is to rescue the civilian vessel Kobayashi Maru in a simulated battle with the Klingons. The disabled ship is located in the Klingon Neutral Zone, and any Starfleet ship entering the zone would cause an interstellar incident. The approaching cadet crew must decide whether to attempt rescue of the Kobayashi Maru crew – endangering their own ship and lives – or leave the Kobayashi Maru to certain destruction and avoid an incident that could cause all-out war with the Klingons. No win scenario.

The temple leaders try to put Jesus in the position of husbands everywhere with the Do I Look Fat In This Dress scenario or the dread of star fleet officer cadets everywhere with the Kobayashi Maru scenario. The no win scenario. First, they flatter Him with compliments about his teaching and then they lower the boom. They ask him the apparently no-win scenario question. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Whoa, tough question. If Jesus agrees that Roman taxation is right, then perhaps they can turn public opinion against Jesus with the same vehemence with which tax collectors are hated. But if, as they suspect, Jesus secretly despises the Romans’ right to occupy Israel and place burdensome taxes on its citizens, perhaps they can get him to say something that can be construed as rebellion against Rome. Perhaps they can paint Jesus as a Zealot, one who fights to free Israel from Roman domination. It is a trick question, all right!

As in the tale of the USS Enterprise crew, where Captain Kirk redesigned the program of the no-win situation to come out the Kobayashi Maru test as a winner, Jesus gives the most amazing answer. His answer silenced the leaders. They could not use what He said against them. It was brilliant. Render unto Caesar what is Caesars and render unto God what is God’s. The unimpeachable answer is given. But what does it mean for us today. What does it mean for our lives today that we can put into practice in our daily lives.

Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and render unto God what is God’s. There are so many things to say about this one statement. First, we have a duty to support our governments because they have been placed over us for a reason. In Jesus’ day, Israel had become a conquered nation because man-made designs but because Israel was paying the consequences of becoming a godless nation. Under David and Solomon the nation had become mighty and strong. They had become self-centered and self-indulgent and had pushed God aside. He allowed their self-indulgence to make them weak and they became conquered by successive empires of Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece and now Rome. God created the idea of government to organize people. He condones the idea of government. We have a legitimate obligation to both God and the government. Government serves as an organizing point to society and we have an obligation to support it. God is a God of order and not of disorder. His Word is consistent and true and non-contradictory. It is simply part of His character. Government then is God condoned as a way to establish an orderly society.

The point here to remember is that the two, Caesar and God, are not necessarily always at odds with each other. If our government is run by Christ followers and those seeking to do what is morally and spirtually right, then we have as our duty to support that. We should support our government when its ways are reflective of God’s way. We were not born to live in disorder so when our governments are seeking to reflect the character of God by its actions (whether the leaders are saved or not) then we have an obligation to support it. It is only when our government is at opposition with the character of God that we must place our duty to God over our duty to government.

In nations where there is no democracy that may mean to work passionately, compassionately, and diligently to change the ruling government through its replacement or through changing it from the inside out. In nations where there is a democratically elected government, we must seek out at the ballot box to change the government’s path by voting en masse for those whose candidacies appear most to reflect the character of God. What it does not entitle us to do is to withdraw from government and complain about the direction it is heading. What it does is to call us to action when our government becomes godless. We must wage war at the ballot box. 82% of Americans claim to be Christian. However, only 48% of all eligible American voters participate in elections. Therefore, a lot of Christians stay home on election day. How can we claim that our government is out of control and is less than godly when we do not participate in the process. Why do we complain that there are no godly candidates out there when we do not run for office. People will elect from the choices that they have. When they do not have Christ-like choices, we get godless governments.

Jesus avoided the no-win scenario, because, well, He is God and as a result He is kind of a good debater! LOL. In his answer, he says that He is not a rebel intent on destroying Rome but He did not jump into Rome’s lap either by what He said. He is saying you decide. Look at your government. Is it aligned with God’s character. Then we have an obligation to support it if it is. If your government is one that has become the antithesis of God’s character, then we must always stick with God. If we see the current state of affairs in our government as in opposition to God’s Word such as in matters of marriage, abortion, welfare, etc., we must rise up at the ballot box. We must rise up and run for office. We must change the government instead of watching it slide down the slope. Much deeper than that, we must no longer be closet Christians. We must be out in the world sharing the gospel daily to a nation that needs to know Him. A godless government is a reflection of its people in a democratic society. We must not be content to keep the gospel to ourselves. We must share it. We must live lives that draw others unto Him. We must tell the story of Jesus so that others will come to know Him as Savior. With each person that comes to Christ our nation begins to more reflect the character of God. When our nation reflects the character of God, our government eventually will too.

Luke 20:9-19 — This parable, widely known as the Parable of the Evil Farmers, may seem like it is directed at the religious leaders of the day and has nothing to do with us today, but it is so spot on to us today that it is eery. That is the beauty of God’s Word. The thing that strikes me is the reaction of the crowd. The NIV translation says that their reaction was “God forbid!”. The ESV translation says their response was “Surely not!” The NLT translation says, “How terrible that such a thing should ever happen!”. You get the drift. But the question arises. What is their shock about. Is about the judgment of the owner of the vineyard? That the tenants killed the owner’s son?

If they are shocked that the owner would come judge the tenant farmers for having killed his Son, are we not the same today. We reject His Son with increasing regularity today. We reject God’s Word for a new moral order created by man to suit man. We believe that all roads lead to heaven and there are no consequences. There is no judgment. We prefer to think of God as only love and not judgment. We simply look at it like if we do more good things than bad things then we are OK. We decide that we are the brokers of God’s truth. We either say that the Bible is outdated or that God surely did not mean that nowadays to justify our sliding moral landscape in which we live. We either reject God totally or we modify His Word to mean that our personal liberties are paramount. God is our servant. He wants us to be happy so how could this thing that I feel in my heart be wrong. How is that God has seemingly changed to say what was once considered wrong in His eyes is now acceptable? One of the characteristics of God is that He has not changed, is now the same as He ever was, and will always be. What God says stays true no matter what century it is. There is judgment. We will all face it. There is consequence for rejecting God’s Word. There is consequence for rejecting Jesus as the only way to the Father. There will be judgment. There will be no asking whether we were good enough. If we have sinned ever, we are screwed. Any one sin committed is offensive to God and He in His perfection will destroy us for our imperfection. That’s why we need Jesus. He took our punishment for sin. To avoid the just judgment for one sin much the many sins that we commit daily, we need to accept the Son in the vineyard of our life.

If the listeners were shocked that the tenants would kill the owner’s Son, are we not like that today also. We kill Jesus daily. When we reject the idea that Jesus is the only way to the Father, we kill Him. When we do not see Him as the way, the truth, and the life but rather a way, a truth, a life, we kill Him. When we create our own religions that are mixtures of eastern transcendalism and Christian beliefs by picking and choosing what works for us personally, we kill Him. When we no longer believe that there are immutable, unchangeable moral absolutes, we kill Him. When we believe that Jesus was not the Son of God and just a radical rabbi so as to avoid the issue of there actually being a God, we kill Him. When we believe that He did not perform miracles or rise from the dead, we kill Him. When we worship ourselves through self-centeredness, we kill Him. When we replace Him with things, we kill Him. Surely not! God forbid!

If you are busy killing Jesus daily, please listen. Please understand that there is a God. He does exist. He did create the entire universe. It was created for a purpose. He created mankind to have fellowship with Him. He did not want us to worship Him as robots so He gave us free will. He gave us intellect. In our free will and through the power of Satan, the fallen angel, we have chosen to rebel against God. We have chosen our own way and called it enlightenment. We have made ourselves God. In the ever spiraling out of control effects of mankinds cumulative and collective sins, the world is in the mess that it is. The problem is that God is perfect sinless and without flaw. Because of our sin we are now flawed. Just one sin makes us imperfect and unable to exist in the presence of God. We each need rescue. God provided that when He broke into human history in the flesh as Jesus. God loved us so much and wanted to be reconciled with us that He sent His Son to deal with this sin separation issue. Because Jesus was God, He was able to come to earth and live a sinless life that we are incapable of doing. He came and used human events to allow Him to be placed on the cross by Roman authorities. There, because of His sinless life, it made Him the perfect sacrifice for sin. His innocent blood was shed on the cross and He took on the God’s wrath for all sin for all time of all mankind. God poured our His wrath for our imperfections on Jesus. All we must do is believe that this was the purpose of Jesus dying on the cross. All we must do is have faith that Jesus was indeed God in the flesh. We are then restored to God and He can come to live in our hearts as the Holy Spirit because we are no longer too dirty, too evil. Jesus cleared the decks for us. We are now reconciled to a loving but just God.

Are you believing that there is no judgment? Are you believing that God could not bring about judgment upon you as long as you are more good than bad? Are you believing that God is different today than He was in the Old Testament? Have you avoided parts of God’s Word because you think you’ve got God figured out so that He suits your lifestyle? Surely not! God forbid! But it is real, there is judgment. We reject God daily. We kill Jesus daily. God has not changed. He still judges. He still is the same. He will never change. His Word will remain true eternally even if we think it is out of date right now. Just because you reject something as not true does not mean it is not true. Truth never changes only men do. The only way to avoid the just judgment we deserve is through the one, the way, the truth, the life, Jesus Christ.

I am not usually one to comment immediately on news stories of the day with knee jerk posts. And, this post itself is not a knee jerk reaction to what is going on right now in Baltimore. It comes watching events such as this unfold repeatedly throughout the past couple of years. This post is to point out and praise the people of South Carolina in light of Ferguson, MO and in light of Baltimore, MD. Recently, we had a white cop who shot and killed a black man on video right here in South Carolina. The expectation because of recent similar events in other parts of the United States was that North Charleston, SC would explode in rioting just as these other cities have. However, the powder keg explosion never happened here. Say, what you will about South Carolina and maybe your perceptions of its backwardness if you are from some other part of the country. However, our people, both black and white, are both practical and rooted in the Christian faith.

We are a practical people. Just look back at integration in the 1970s. There was no violence here. It was tense but it was quiet. South Carolinians are practical people, black and white. We work. We believe, both black and white, that it is better to work than depend on the government. We work to provide for our families. We work to make a better life. To destroy property without personal cause seems strange to us. We realize that we are hurting no one but ourselves when we behave as Northerners do. We are too busy about making a living for our families than to descend into anarchy and then have to pick up the pieces later. In South Carolina, we, both black and white, have come to learn that our history is our teacher. The old South Carolina and its ways caused us great poverty and strife. Race relations are not perfect here, but we are practical people, both black and white. Our history is ugly and we vow to never be that South Carolina again. South Carolina is about work and making a living. South Carolina is about industry and raising the standard of living of all South Carolinians. We learned along time ago that if every man has a job, all of our boats are lifted. That’s why North Charleston did not explode. Yes, there were protests in North Charleston and that is our right as citizens to express our opinions right or wrong. That is the fundamental right of all citizens of South Carolina and our nation. The response by North Charleston residents was measured and appropriate. I can express my rage at police brutality without committing violence myself. I praise the community leaders of North Charleston for handling this in the practical way that South Carolinians approach life. Say what you will about South Carolina but we will not be rebuilding North Charleston for years to come.

We are a people rooted in the Christian faith. In our Christian values, truth is valued. On the surface the North Charleston shooting appears to be murder. However, the people of South Carolina are considering more than just what was scene on the video. The truth is that there was a reason that the man ran from the simple traffic stop in North Charleston. Honest people don’t run. Sure, the use of force appears to have been misguided. However, the people of South Carolina, both black and white, are waiting for the truth to come out. And the truth will come out. The cop involved has already been charged with murder and I expect that his use of force compared to the crime and compared to the fact that his life was not in danger will result in a conviction on this charge. But North Charleston did not explode. There is hope in the faith in Jesus Christ. There is the belief that life will get better. There is the belief that the truth will come out in the end. We wait for the judicial process to take its course. This is why North Charleston did not explode.

Think about it. There is truth in the words above. Say what you will about South Carolina but we, black and white, value where South Carolina is going and not where it has been. South Carolina is about opportunity. South Carolina is about work leading to a better life for all. South Carolina is about practicality. South Carolina is about if you burn it down you just have to come back later and rebuild it. We know that from history. South Carolina is my home. I have lived all my life here except for three years in California. I would live no place else. When I compare the reaction in North Charleston to the reactions in Ferguson and Baltimore, it confirms that I have the right place to call home. It is the state I was born in. It is the state that I am unashamed to say I am from there. It is the state that I am very proud of right now. It is South Carolina.

Luke 20:1-8 — We accept on this side of history that Jesus would, should, and could teach at the temple. However, at the time these events happened, the religious authorities saw Jesus preaching and teaching in the temple. This is really significant! Do not gloss over it! They ask by whose authority granted to Him did He teach in the temple?

There was a movie awhile back, brilliantly acted by the co-stars Leonardo DeCaprio and Tom Hanks. It was called Catch Me If You Can. In this movie, DeCaprio plays the real-life character of Frank Abagnale, Jr. who took on the persona of a doctor, lawyer, airline pilot, while financing the lifestyle of these personas with bogus checks. In each of these situations, Abagnale was able to convince others, through the sheer will of his confidence, that he was what he said he was. There is an old saying that if you say something with enough confidence that people will believe what you say. Abagnale was so good at his lies that he actually believed them it seems. He did not have the authority to do anything that he said. He just claimed that he did. There was no real authority granted to him. His lies about the jobs always caught up with him not to mention the money he stole from others through his almost authentic forged checks. His lack of real authority to do what he did and make the claims that he made was his ultimate undoing.

The religious authorities at the temple saw Jesus teaching and preaching and they wanted to know how He assumed He had the authority to do so. They thought he was like Frank Abagnale, an impostor. They thought of him like professors would think of you and me if we walked on campus and started holding impromptu classes on the steps of one of the campus classroom buildings. They would want to know if we had been authorized to be teaching there. Jesus was a carpenter’s son from Galilee to them. He had received no formal religious training. He had no formal designation of authority granted to him by the priesthood. It is like today where many denominations will not allow you to be a pastor if you do not have a seminary degree. Jesus seemed to them in a very real way unqualified to do what He has doing. However, Jesus’ words were like honey to the listeners because they were coming from the mouth of God. His words were truth. God’s truth. They were words that could not be disputed because they came from the perfect God. The authorities were all about authority, labels, and power (not much different from us today). In their blind ambition to maintain order and power, they could not see the Messiah. To them, He was an immensely popular threat and another false prophet. They go on the attack. They have got to diffuse the power that Jesus seems to be accumulating among the people. He preaching and teaching seemed to pointing toward the fact that the religious system of Israel was corrupt and thus invalid. They had to discredit him.

The questions asked of Jesus were really a trap. This was, in some senses not unusual in the Jewish culture. It was a very common rabbinical style to argue or have debates by asking questions. You would ask your opponent a question and they would respond in kind, if they were able, with another more difficult question. In the end, the conversation was “won” by the one who could ask the last question. This is why Jesus so often responded to questions with a question of his own and why we never see anyone top Jesus with a question that he could not answer back to with a question of his own. But make no mistake, this was not an innocent question. If Jesus indicated somehow that God was the source of his authority, then he would be giving them all the ammunition that they needed to charge him with blasphemy. Blasphemy was punishable by death. They wanted to get Jesus out of the way. He was a threat to all that they held dear. Jesus’ answer is brilliant.

The Pharisees were so busy trying to figure out the best answer that they could not come up with the right answer. They were more concerned how their response would play publicly than they were about the truth. The were blind to the truth. Appearances were more important than the truth. They were blind guides so if they could not see the Messiah standing in front of them Jesus was not going to tell them from whom His authority came. They did not deserve the answer. They were more concerned about perceptions, power, and authority than they were about truth. They were so concerned with these things that they could not see the Messiah standing right in front of them.

What is the lesson for us that we need to apply to our lives? What is the Christ follower to take away from this scene? I think it is a continuation of what we talked about yesterday. We must always keep our eyes focused on the message rather than the trappings of the message. We must keep our eyes on Jesus rather that our positions within the church. Dissension in churches is often caused by people feeling that the position that they hold within the church is being threatened by someone new. We often feel threatened by the talents of others within the church. We often gossip about those who rise to the top because of their passion and desire to serve the Lord. One church in a community may be jealous of another church in the community because it is growing faster even though it is younger. We get so caught up in things that are about us in the church that we sometimes forget why we are there. Let us remember that we are all about. We are here to make the name of Jesus famous. Nothing else matters. We are here lead others to Christ. We are here to make disciples. We are here to celebrate the person and work of Jesus Christ. We are here to see, hear, touch, feel, taste the truth of the Messiah. Let us not become so concerned with labels, positions, and power and other horizontal views in the church that we forget that our view should be vertical. Seeing the Messiah. Pointing people to Him. Measuring every action by whether we are doing that by our actions or not.

Luke 19:45-48 — The business of the temple had begun to overshadow the work and purpose of the Temple. What Luke does not go into a great deal of detail about is the fact that corruption had descended upon the priesthood. According to Bobby Stultz in his sermon, “Jesus Clears The Temple”,

“God placed the priests in charge of the sacrifice and they determined if the animal or bird or grain that was brought was worthy. Over time there had been corruption in the priesthood and a bargain had been struck with local businessmen. These businessmen would set up in the outer courts and sell ‘qualified and acceptable’ animals, birds or grain to those coming to worship. It had gotten so bad that even when someone brought the best from their flock, it would not be good enough and they were told that they had to buy from the men in the Temple courtyard. Because they had the monopoly on the trade, the prices began to rise and it became a huge burden on those coming to sacrifice”

The merchants had set themselves up in what was known as the “Court of the Gentiles”. It was the area of the temple where God-fearing Gentiles could come to worship at the temple. They could not pass into the Court of Women (the next concentric square of the temple) which was reserved for Jewish women only. They could go no further than their court. The temple itself (the next innermost concentric square) was reserved for male Jews. And of course the innermost part of the Temple was the Holy of Holies where the presence of God was located and could only be entered by high ranking members of the priesthood at specified times. The merchants had become so prevalent in the Court of the Gentiles that it was almost impossible for any Gentile to worship. With the flurry of business activity, people milling around, trying to buy animals and exchange money, making deals, etc., the Gentile Court was like trying to worship in the middle of a busy highway. The business of the Jewish religion had begun to overshadow the real purpose of the temple. Jesus was righteously angry over this. He exclaims, “My Temple will be a house of prayer, but you have turned it into a den of thieves.” Luke goes on to say that Jesus then began teaching in the temple daily. Because of his disruption of the “economy of the temple” for uttering that the Temple was His and seeing the immense popular of Jesus could upset the tense detente they had with their Roman occupiers, the leaders of commerce and the religious elite began plotting ways to get rid of this Jesus. There are a couple of things that we must take away from this scene.

First, we should never let the business of the church become more important than the purpose of the church. One of the dangers of the new wave of contemporary church is often the merchandising of the latest thing. You see all throughout modern churches. T-Shirts. Books by the latest coolest author. Selling coffee from third world countries. If Jesus walked into the atriums, lobbies, or narthaxes of modern new wave churches, what would He say. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that these things in and of themselves can be bad or that we should do away with them. It is a matter of what the priority of our hearts are. If the merchandising of the NewSpring, the LifeSong, the FourPoint or any of the other cool modern churches becomes more important than the message then we are in trouble. If the flashing lights, videos, and sermon bumpers become more important than the message then Jesus would be righteously angry at us. If the logo of the church becomes the most important decision that a pastor of a church plant makes, then, we have lost sight of what we are doing. If church planting consultants advice becomes more important than the Word of God then we have lost sight of what we are doing here. We would then be no different than the priesthood and business merchants in this scene that we stand back and condemn. They had rooted out the purpose of the temple. We can root out the purpose of the church if we care more about the glitz and the glamor than the Word of God. I wonder sometimes when I attend church conferences where the lobbies are full of “Christian vendors” what Jesus would think.

Let us never forget why we have a church in the first place. It is to teach the Word of God. It is to spread the gospel. It is to pass on the message of God’s redemptive plan through Jesus Christ. It is to show Christ’s love to the community around us. It is to reflect His grace to a dying world. Let us not get so caught up in the new wave of Christianity’s glitz and going to conferences and seminars, and buying the next coolest book by the next coolest megachurch pastor, and buying the coolest merchandise that shouts to the world that you are a new wave Christian that we forget giving glory to God, and spreading the gospel message to the world around us. Let us not let the business of the new wave of Christianity overshadow what we are trying to revitalize – giving glory to God, and showing the love of Christ to a dying world. Let us not crowd out true worship of our Father in heaven with the business of cool Christianity just as the merchants in the temple had crowded out Gentile worship.

The second thing that we see here that Jesus cleared the temple so the Gentiles could worship again. His message is clear in doing this. The Jewish religious elite had become so focused on themselves that their own enrichment that they forgot that the message of God was for the Gentiles as well. That was the purpose of the court of the Gentiles – to allow them to worship God, too. The cause of the new wave of Christianity today is the fact that traditional churches had failed to reach outside the walls of their churches. They refused to service the searching souls out there. The lost souls that entered their midst were made to feel like strangers and interlopers. Jesus is clear here. God’s love is for all mankind. The Jews had come to see themselves as the isolated keepers of God’s Word. God intended them to be the bearer of God’s Word to the world not the broker of who is acceptable and who is not. Traditional churches cannot complain about the megachurch movement. The new wave church movement is taking the message to the world in ways that traditional church have failed. Traditional church had gotten so wrapped up in policies and political positions on subject matter that they forgot their first love. Traditional churches had become country clubs where political connections were to be made. If Jesus entered a traditional church today, what would He say.

The final thing that we see is that the success of Jesus’ teaching at the temple was the fact that it was inclusionary and it was simple. The rap against traditional churches today are that they are exclusionary much like the Jewish religious system of Jesus’ day. The rap against new wave church today is that the delivery method, and the merchandising of the message has become more important than the message itself. I think if we just get back to two things that Jesus taught us to do whether you are a big brick and mortar church with a huge complex of buildings or a new wave church that meets in a high-tech auditorium, whether your church has been around for 150 years or 15 months, Jesus would walk in our midst and say well done. He taught two things that we must do. He taught us Luke 10:27 – Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength and love others as you love yourself. He taught us Matthew 28:19-20, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” That is simple. The message has always been simple.

We do not need doctoral degrees or masters degrees to know this. We do not need the next greatest book by the next greatest megachurch pastor to know this. We don’t need the merchandising to know this. We do not denominational policies and procedures to know this. We do not need denominational position papers on a political issue to know this. It is simple. Worship God. Put God first. Love others the way God loved us. Spread the message of His love for us. Anything else is just fluff. Anything else is just merchandising. Anything else is just denominational leaders trying to justify their existence. Anything else is crowding out the simple message of the cross. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son for whosoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Let us pray that if Jesus walked into our church that He would say well done good and faithful servants.

Luke 19:41-44 — The journey to Jerusalem is complete. Jesus sees the city before Him. And He weeps for her. Why does Jesus weep? Jesus weeps for her because she will be destroyed completely in about 35-40 years from this moment of His weeping. Jerusalem will ultimately reject and murder Jesus. God will never turn his back on His people but there are always and certainly consequences to sin.

I compare Jesus here to a parent who sees the actions that a child is taking and weeps over knowing what the outcome is going to be. Parents cannot see into the future but they know from their life experiences what a child’s poor decisions are going to give in results. We can tell our children until we are tired of telling them about what their actions will bring but yet the children do not listen. It is upsetting to a parent. You know without a doubt that poor decisions will lead to bad consequences. But you cannot live your children’s lives for them. They have free will. They have minds of their own. They are of our flesh but from the first moment of life, they begin being separate from us. Thinking their own thoughts. Making their own choices. We can guide them but they ultimately make their own choices. This is free will. Sometimes our children make poor choices and those choices have consequences. However, we still love our children even though they have made poor choices. You will accept them into your open arms when they come to you and ask for forgiveness for the mistakes they have made. We accept them into our open arms when they have rejected us in favor of their own desires. We love them always despite their choices.

This is why I think Jesus weeps here. He is God. He is the ultimate parent. We are all His children. His weeping shows us a couple of things that we must consider. First, Jesus’ weeping shows us that He is compassionate for us. Second, Jesus’ weeping shows us that there is a risk to God giving us free will. Third, Jesus’ weeping shows us that there are consequences to sin.

Jesus weeps. He cries over the chosen city of His chosen people. When people cry, it is because they have an emotional interest in a situation and the people involved in the situation. What this tells me is that Jesus is not some aloof, far off God. He is truly concerned about you and me. He has known us since we were knitted together in our mother’s womb. He knows each and every hair on our head. God is active in our lives. He is not some lifeless god to whom we have to try to figure out what they want. He is active in our lives. He loves us. He cares. We cry out to God and He responds. He gives us His Word so that we can see who He is. We don’t have to wonder about the character of God. He has revealed it to us in His Word. The fact that the Father sent the Son into our temporal world shows that He cares deeply for his created. The fact that He gave us the Holy Spirit shows that He wants us to know Him intimately. Jesus weeps. Jesus weeps because He cares. He weeps because He is intimately involved in the lives of all creation. He is an active and concerned God. He has compassion for us.

Jesus weeps. He cries over his beautiful holy city. He cries over the fact that in our free will we choose often to reject Him. Why, then, did God give us free will. He did not want us to be worshiping robots. He wants us to choose Him as a mental, cognitive choice. In that, God takes a risk. By giving us free will, we may choose to reject Him. It is just as a child will sometimes make choices that are opposite of what their parents want, so, too, do we make choices that reject the teaching of our Father in heaven. We could keep our children locked in a closet so as to prevent them from making stupid mistakes, but we don’t. We allow our children to develop minds of their own and encourage them to think and to develop. It is the same way between our Ultimate Parent and us as His children. He could zap us into believing in Him. However, in the zapping, He would take away the beauty of coming to know Jesus through our own choice. A child can be told a thousand times not to touch a hot burner on a stove, but until they get burned it is not as real a lesson as the real experience. God wants us to come to Him by our own choice. That takes risk. That takes love. Free will causes our children to reject us as parents sometimes but we never stop loving them. We could make our kids robots by controlling their environment. But how much more special is it when our children realize that our love for them is real and unending on their own. How much more depth is their to our children’s love and respect for us when the come to understand the unending love and the unending sacrifices we have made for them. Free will is a risk but the reward can be awesome.

Jesus weeps. He does because there are consequences to sin. Just as a parent weeps when their child rejects their advice and then runs into a jam as a result of their poor choices. Just as God created the physical laws of the universe that generally involve cause and effect, sin has consequences. Israel throughout the Bible suffered the consequences of disobedience. Ultimately, this final act of disobedience of rejecting the Messiah would ultimately have consequences. Because of continuing rebellions during the years of Roman occupation, Rome finally had enough in 70AD and brought down the full wrath of the Roman army on Jerusalem. No more tolerance. Complete obliteration. Even the temple was torn down stone by stone. Sin has consequences. God allows circumstances that are the result of our sins. Just as parents allow consequences for bad behavior, there are consequences for sin. We see it all around us. Poor choices lead to consequences. We sit around sometimes and shake our fist at God for the situation that we find ourselves in that seems to have no end and no solution. We must follow the sin trail. Our bad results can often be traced back to a sinful decision that we made. We get angry at God for the bad things that we see in our lives and in our world. But it is all of our own making. We live in a sin filled fallen world. It has been this way since the first sin. It is all cause and effect. Sin has consequences. Always. It is an immutable law of the universe that God created.

However because of our weeping Jesus, there is a way out. God cares about us enough to send His Son to redeem us. He loves us despite our poor choices. All we have to do is come to Him and ask Him to forgive our rejection of Him. He cares about us enough not to write us off. He may allow us the consequences of our sins just so that we can see that He is still there. Still loving us. We can see that He weeps over our poor choices. He weeps over our sin and its consequences. He wants what is best for us and that is for us to come to Him and ask Him to be our Savior and our Lord. He is a loving parent waiting for you to come home to Him. He cares enough about you to weep over you. See Him. Come home to Him.

Luke 19:28-40 — The first thing that comes to mind here when you read through it when you try to compare it to something you know today is the Tiger Walk on fall Saturdays at Clemson University. The football team walks from Jervey Athletic Center across to Death Valley. All Clemson fans that are tailgating stop what they are doing and form two lines on either side as the team passes through. It is a celebration of the team. It is pretty cool. You get to high five with the players as they pass buy and you get to see them in their suits and ties for a moment rather than hidden behind a football uniform and helmet. It is a celebration of Tiger spirit. At that moment, the game has not yet been played and the air is full of hope. The game is still to come. Everyone is “all-in” at this moment. The question then becomes, if Clemson loses the game played out on the gridiron within the confines of Clemson Memorial Stadium, are you still full of Tiger spirit then? Are you still “all-in”? Before the game, it takes no great effort to be part of the crowd that is cheering on the Tigers as they pass. After a tough loss, that’s when you know who the true Tigers are. These are the ones who greet the players and hug them and tell them that we still support you guys no matter what. There are those of us who simply love the school win, lose, or draw. These are the true members of Tiger Nation. I think today, there is a similarity between the illustration. At this point, on what has come to be known as Palm Sunday, we are in the pregame festivities of Passion Week. It is easy to be a Jesus fan on this end of Passion Week. When we get to crunch time, when the game is played out in Jerusalem, everyone’s true character will be revealed. Is Jesus the true Messiah, the suffering servant? Is Jesus the conquering political figure? Is Jesus the threat to traditional power? In our day today, we must decide whether or not we are “all-in” with Jesus or not.

The first thing that I think we should notice here is that Jesus is no longer trying to conceal that He is the Messiah. In many of his miracles, He asked that the healed person be quiet about what was done because He did not want His message to be overshadowed by the miracles. In each miracle, He always checked on a person’s spiritual health first before providing the physical miracle, so that was the real point was the forgiveness of sins and the reconciliation with God. That was the message. In Matthew 16:20, after Peter reveals his belief that Jesus is the Son of the Living God, The Messiah, Jesus ordered them to keep quiet about it. It was not yet time to publicly proclaim it. But, here we are, as Rafiki says to Simba in the Lion King at his coronation ceremony, “It is time!” It is now the time, according to God’s plan for Jesus to publicly embrace the mantle of the Messiah. There no mistaking to Jesus and to any Jewish person that was there why Jesus chose to ride a donkey the remainder of the way to Jerusalem. In Zechariah’s prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, he says:

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

Jesus is publicly and intentionally annoucing to the world that He is the Messiah. No longer is He trying to keep it concealed. All of the angling toward Jerusalem that Luke starts each new passage with is now about to be completed. He is almost to Jerusalem now. It is time to reveal who He really is to the world. It is during this week that the people had to make a choice as to whether they were true fans of this Jesus. He would proclaim that He is the Messiah. He would proclaim that He is God in the flesh. The gloves are off. This is the week that choices are made. Passion Week is what separates us today between believers and non-believers. The non-believers just as most of Jerusalem will fall away and many do today when Jesus proclaims He is God. This riding of the donkey is the pregame festivities to the hard work of the coming week in Jerusalem. Do you believe that Jesus is God in the flesh? Do you believe that He was the scriptural Messiah? Do you believe that He died for your sins on a cross outside the city?

But right now, in this passage on this first of all Palm Sundays, it is easy to be a Jesus fan. Right now, instead of the Tiger Walk, we have the Jesus Ride, the disciples are high fiving people as they pass. The people are shouting praises of Jesus name. It is a big party and its easy to join in with the crowd. The crowd is shouting that He is king. The people who were praising God for giving them a Messiah (they recognized the significance of the donkey) King. But they had forgotten Scripture and they expected the Messiah not to be a suffering servant but rather a conquering hero. They expected Him to be a national leader who would drive out the Romans and restore Israel to its former glory. They were deaf to the words of the prophets and blind to the mission of Jesus. So, right now Jesus represented liberation from Roman rule. He represented not the reconciler of man to God through His suffering, but rather someone who would provide them immediate benefits. How quickly they would turn once they realized that Jesus was not going to lift them out from under Roman rule! They were fair weather Jesus fans. They wanted to be on the bandwagon. It is like those that become fans of a college team that has put together a string of successful seasons but those same fans will jump ship when the team has a losing season or a less than stellar season. The true fans of a school’s football team are those that love them through thick and thin, whether the team is 7-6 or 11-2, whether the team is 2-10 or 12-0. How are you about Jesus? Do you drift in and out of a relationship with Him? Do you cry out to him when you are in a jam and then forget about Him after the crisis has passed? Or do you celebrate Jesus’ influence in your life when times are good but throw Him to the curb when times are bad? Jesus calls us to be “all-in” all the time. He wants our allegiance every minute of every day whether it be good times or bad. Do you see Jesus as a vending machine to give you what you want or do you trust Him with your whole life all day every day?

Finally, we see the Pharisees trying to quell the noise of the crowd. They now see how wildly popular that Jesus is becoming. They didn’t want someone challenging their power and authority and they didn’t want a revolt against Rome that would bring Roman military might down on Jerusalem. They knew the significance of the donkey and they saw Jesus as wanting to usurp their power. They could not see the Messiah. They could embrace Jesus as what God had promised throughout Scripture. It is like a fan of one team always negatively referencing the capabilities of their arch-rival. They try to tear down the victories of the archrival and glorify the losses. It is also like traditional churches trying whatever they can to discredit a new fast growing non-traditional church. All of it represents a threat to that which we hold dear. Instead of embracing Jesus as the fulfillment of Scripture they were more concerned with preserving their own team. When we get so self-involved with the things we hold dear we cannot see beyond ourselves. Jesus is OK as long as He doesn’t have to be a part of all of my life. There are things that I want to keep separate from Jesus. These are my own little thrones over here. You can have the rest Jesus, but not these things. Giving you my complete allegiance would mean that I have to change my lifestyle. Many of us want to dabble with Jesus but not give Him our whole life. We want to be on His bandwagon until it costs us something. Real life change. Real obedience to God’s Word. Accepting all of Scripture as requiring our obedience. Willingly submit control of our entire lives to the Messiah! Man, that’s too much of a threat to the things that I have grown accustomed to! Do you see Jesus as a threat to your lifestyle? Does He represent the threat of truth against the lies and twisted truth that you have constructed for your life?

Jesus proclaims that He is the Messiah. It is all out in the open now. How are you going to react? Are you all-in? Have you placed your faith in Him. From this point forward in the book of Luke there is no turning back. Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem and change the history of mankind forever. He will go there to die for our sins just as had been predicted in Scripture. Do you believe that Jesus was the Son of God? Do you believe that He was just some great rabbi philosopher? Well, from here on in Luke, you have to get off the train. Everything else from here on in requires faith that Jesus was who He says He was. It is easy to be on the bandwagon when you can make Jesus out to be what you want Him to be. However, to be a true fan of Jesus, you must make the choice as to whether you believe He is the Messiah foretold in Scripture.

To be a true fan of Jesus, you must understand that He had to go to Jerusalem and die on the cross. To be a true fan of Jesus, you must understand that his death on the cross was more than an execution of a political threat. You must understand that it represents the once and final sacrifice for sin. You must understand that you are sinner no matter how good you true to be. You must understand that one sin is all it takes to separate us from God. You must understand that we cannot erase our nature and that because of that we are condemned to hell for our sins without this sacrifice on the cross. You must understand that Jesus on the cross took on all the sins of the world for all time that day. In that, you and I have a chance to reconcile ourselves to God and have eternal life. You must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that He died for your sins on the cross so that you may have eternal life. Are you all-in? Are you a true fan? Or is this where you jump off the bandwagon? If you are feeling the stirrings in your soul that you want to be a true fan of Jesus, call on his name now. He did all the work of the Passion Week already. Your sins are forgiven once you ask Him into your life! You become a member of the family of the Jesus team. We have our own logo like all good teams do. It is the cross. Come join our team! Jesus wants you to be all-in!

Luke 19:11-27 — As an accountant by trade, I am intrigued by this parable. In my job as comptroller for the company that I work for, it is my job to ensure that the company’s financial performance each month is fairly and reasonably presented. It is my job also to be the cynic who ensures that all of our company’s resources are used in an efficient and effective manner. It is my responsibility to ensure that the resources provided to us by our shareholders are used wisely and used in a manner that is in their best interest. It is, after all, not my investment but theirs that I am to monitor and try to grow in the most profitable and ethical manner that I can. It is this concept of fiduciary responsibility that Jesus speaks of in this parable as it relates to the kingdom of God. It is Jesus that invested in us at the cross. We are to take what He did at the cross and spread that good news in the best ways that we can with the talents and resources that He gave us. We are to speak the gospel and We are to make it possible for the gospel to be spread far and wide. Otherwise, what will the King say when He returns?

This story shows us what we are to do between Jesus’ ascension into heaven after His resurrection and His return in glory at His second advent. We have been given the good news. Are we to keep it ourselves and not share it? In this parable, the king punished the servant upon his return because he did not share his master’s interest in the expansion of his kingdom. His only concern was for himself. He did nothing productive. What if the first century Christians did see the need to spread the good news? You and I would be sitting here worshiping a tree, or some god of the ocean, or animals, or the sun or the moon. If we have accepted Christ as our Savior, we have a responsibility to Him to spread the news of the gospel. There is a world out there that does not know Him. We must speak. We must reach outside the four walls of our church. We must not sit back and bemoan the state of our world where eternally abnormal is considered increasingly normal. We must get out there and invest in the kingdom. We must dine with sinners and not just saints. We must reach down and give a hand to the adulteress and tell her of the kingdom instead of trying to stone her. We must love the unlovable instead of staying away from them. We must act on what we write about in our blogs. Love must invade. Love cannot just be theory to which we give our intellectual acquiescence but yet do nothing. We must not sit in our ivory towers and complain that the world is going in the opposite direction of Scripture but yet do nothing to change it. We must be in the world. We do not have to practice those things that are evil in God’s eyes but how else are we going to change the world if we are not out there sharing the gospel. We must share the gospel and not just say our life is our testimony. We must speak. We must invest. Otherwise, we are just bad servants of the message that has been invested in us.

Instead of protesting from a safe distance over gay and lesbian lifestyles, let’s get to know them, love them, and speak compassionately of the love that Jesus has for them. Instead of shunning those who live immoral lifestyles, let us get to know them and teach them of Scripture and of our Savior. Instead of distancing ourselves from those that do not believe in God, let us get to know them and lovingly show them that there is a God and that He loves them so much that He sent His Son to die for them. Instead of sitting in our insulated Christian circles, and worrying about what people might think. Let us get dirty with the sinners so that we have the opportunity to tell them of the Good News that they need to hear. If we keep the story to ourselves, we fall short of what Jesus commanded us to do. Jesus didn’t ask us to go into all the world and make disciples. He told us to. He commanded it. There are souls in the balance. Jesus has chosen to spread the news of the kingdom through us, His disciples. We are to make disciples. We are not to keep this story of redemption through Christ to ourselves as a closely guarded elitist secret. We are to share it with everyone. That’s investing in the kingdom. Otherwise we are just bad servants of the story that has been invested in us. What will our master say when He returns?

Another thing that is worth noting here is not only sharing the story but there is the level of this story that has to do with the money itself. We notice here that the money did not come from the servants themselves. It came from the king. This is a reminder to us that our talents and our resources are given to us by our King. God gives you and me the talents that we have. Why then do we not give graciously to the body of Christ. Why then do we covet our money? Why do we want to keep it for ourselves? If we are believers and we say that we take the Bible seriously and the Bible tells us to give at least a tenth of our income to the Lord, why then do churches struggle? Why then do we Christians on average give only 2% of our income to the church? We are given the gift of talent by God to earn the living that we make but yet we hoard our money and say that since we are under grace we do not have to observe the OT tithing rules. Easy cop out for being selfish with our money. The Sermon on the Mount tells us that (1) the law is not abolished only the penalty of it has been done away with through Jesus and that (2) the law is the minimum of behavior. Jesus tells us that we should strive do more than the minimum of the law. So, we should at leas be tithing if not more. What if we all tithed. Imagine how the world would be changed by a LifeSong Church full of at least tithers if not more. Imagine the lives we could touch with the gospel. Imagine the missionaries that we could send out. Imagine the way that we could invade our community with love. Imagine how we could spread the gospel in ways that we wish for now but cannot afford. Let us begin to arrange our lives so that we can live off 90% or less of our income. Let us be faithful to the Word. Let us trust God to provide for our needs and freely give of our money to our church so that it can be invested in the ever increasing returns of the kingdom instead of selfishly living off 104% of what we make as most Americans do. None of the stuff that we acquire matters in the end. Invest in the kingdom of God. Otherwise, we are just bad servants of the talents that He, I repeat He, gave us. What will the master say when He returns?

Father, help us to not selfishly hoard the message of Jesus Christ and barricade ourselves in our Christian circles behind the fences of our church properties and bemoan a world gone mad. Help us to invest spiritually in the world around us. Help us to get out there with the message of Jesus Christ. Help us to change the world with our spoken testimonies of the changes that Jesus wrought in us. Help us to convince the world that Scripture is the eternal Word of the One who created them and teach them of His love expressed through His Son. Help us to also put our money where our belief is. Help us to arrange our lives such that it is not a question whether we can give to the Lord, it is just our nature. Help us to honor you with the first fruits of our labors. Help us to put expansion of Your Kingdom above the expansion of our own little kingdoms of acquired things that don’t matter when our lives are said and done. Amen.

Once upon a time, Benjamin Franklin said, “Well done is better than well said.” Also, some of you may remember from your childhood, that great philosopher Jonathon Winters. He once said, “If your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it.” And finally, the Russian philosopher, P. D. Ouspensky once said, “Effort plus motive equals result.” All of these things point toward the title of my sermon today, “Action Not Words.” We live in a world where words seemingly mean little but it is a man’s actions that matter. Actions come as the result of motivation and motivation comes from the desires of our soul. Words can be tossed around very easily. Often actions contradict our words. William Barclay in biblical commentary volume, “the Gospel of Luke,” offers us a story in his analysis of this passage when he says,

“There was meeting …at which several women were giving their testimony. One woman kept grimly silent. She was asked to testify but [she] refused. She was asked why and she answered, ‘Four of these women who have testified owe me money, and I and my family are half-starved because we cannot buy food.”

These words begin to bring some focus on what we need to talk about today – Jesus demands not just a change of words but a changed heart, a changed life. To get the most meat off the bone here, we must look at the central characters in this short play. The first character in this play is not even an actor. It is the script itself. Yes, I am speaking of the Gospel of Luke. We will see how the script plays a role in this story. Second, another key player in this story is again not a human character. It is the city of Jericho. Why does this story take place in this biblically significant city? Third, with Gospel of Luke and the city of Jericho as a backdrop, we will take a look at the little man, Zaccheus and what his story tells us. Fourth, we will look at the unnamed extras in this play, the Israelites and what their actions tell us. Finally, we must look at the central character of all Scripture, Jesus Christ, and what his actions in this story tell us that we need to know. Although the content of the old 1980’s song by Def Leppard may be meaningless and unworthy of discussion here, we can, however, borrow the song title for our purposes today. Action Not Words. Give me action not words. That’s what Jesus sings into the microphone of our soul. Action! Action not words!

The first thing that is unique about this passage is the fact that it appears only in the Gospel of Luke. It does not appear in the other two gospels that are summaries of Jesus’ earthly life, Mark and Matthew. It is not mentioned in the Gospel of John either. Why does Luke include it in his gospel. We must remember that Luke wrote his gospel so that Gentiles could understand the story of Jesus. He was also a physician. Thus, as a physician, he saw people that maybe mainstream people would not want to associate with. He saw the troubles of women and children in first century society. Thus, his gospel often elevates those who are outcast, those who are women, and those who are children. His gospel was written with the intent of showing that the message of Jesus was for everyone, the outcast, the woman, the child. Those of low estate in first century Palestine were of great concern to Luke. His gospel focuses on the fact that Jesus offers salvation to all, Jews and Gentiles alike. In the first century church, there was great emphasis on not placing labels on people other than the fact that we are all children of the Most High Priest, Jesus Christ. Because of Luke’s intent in writing his gospel, we see that Zaccheus would have caught his attention. He was an outcast. Though wealthy, he was shunned by mainstream Jewish society. His story then fits Luke’s gospel. Jesus’ story is inclusive of hated tax collections. It is a story of reconciliation into the family of Jesus of one who society would consider unworthy.

The second thing that we need to notice here is that we are talking about the city of Jericho. This is where the action of this story takes place. After the Lord God gave the city of Jericho into the hands of Joshua and the people of Israel, Joshua pronounced a curse on the city: “Cursed before the Lord be the man who rises up and rebuilds this city, Jericho. At the cost of his firstborn shall he lay its foundation, and at the cost of his youngest son shall he set up its gates” (Joshua 6:26). It was rebuilt during a particularly low point in Israel’s relationship with God. Ahab had married and idol-worshiping non-Jew Jezebel and began worshiping her god, Baal. All of Israel became idol worshipers. And because of his idolatry and the straying from God, while Jericho was being rebuilt, Ahab’s oldest and youngest son died in the effort. Christ passed through Jericho, Luke 19:1. This city was build under a curse, yet Christ honored it with his presence, for the gospel takes away the curse. Though it ought not to have been built, yet it was not therefore a sin to live in it when it was built. But it is an example of the fact that Jesus can redeem that which has been cursed. Jericho, though a great commercial city in that day because of its strategic location and had much beauty to it because of its commercial wealth, it was a city that was considered a holy place. It was to the Jews an unholy place because of the curse of Joshua. However, Jesus redeems it with his presence there. It is evidence of the fact that the story of Jesus is one of inclusion and reconciliation. It is one of redemption. Jesus can redeem that which others consider cursed and unworthy. The gospel calls out to the unwanted, to the shunned, to the despised and offers them reconciliation into the family of God. Just as today, Christ followers walk through Jericho because Jesus walked there. The city is now considered worthy because it was redeemed by the presence of Jesus, the presence of the Good News, the presence of the gospel.

And then there is Zaccheus, wealthy agent of Rome. The town would have known him, both envied and despised him. Rome had no interest in this province except for its strategic location as a land bridge to Egypt and what taxes it could extort. But Rome could not be everywhere and so it outsourced its Internal Revenue Service. Contracted with natives of the country to do the job. They paid Rome in advance and received the right to extort whatever they could from the locals. Tax collectors have never been particularly popular. Have you heard about the latest proposal for a simplified form? All they ask is: What do you make? What do you spend? What have you got left over? Send it to us.
But in those days the title tax collector automatically meant traitor and thief to the average Jew. In their minds he was stamped as corrupt. In their minds he had abandoned their community and was therefore abandoned by God as well. He was on his way to hell. His name would have been said as a sneer. When born, his mother had chosen Zaccheus because it meant – the righteous, the good, the pure. Isn’t part of his problem right here? Everybody knows him, or thinks they do. He is the wealthy crook. Sinner and tax collector were said in the same breath. All anybody knew was that he was rich and resented. No matter that he might be a lot of other things as well, truly caring husband, loving father, struggling to create a safe and secure life in a dangerous and uncertain world, somebody’s son. They had named him and that was that. Fat cat tax collector. Don’t we do that a lot, imprison one another in a name. Sum others up in ways that destroy their humanity. You hear it among the young —nerd, jock, geek. In more subtle ways, it happens in the adult world. We too label and lock up our minds. She’s the talker. He’s the chauvinist. And so we sum them up, simplify them into stick figures we do not need to understand because, of course, we know who they are.
Labels are dangerous, deadly, labels like failure, average, unstable, stupid, insensitive, black, white, feminist, chauvinist, intellectual, elitist, homosexual, racist, because they reduce human beings to categories, see only aggregates, rather than as complicated beautiful mysterious struggling individual human beings. Tax collector. That summed him.

Because of this rejection by society and finding no particular solace in his wealth, Zaccheus was ready for the gospel. Just as yesterday, the blind man was persistent in his pursuit of Jesus, Zaccheus so wanted the gospel, he climbed a tree to just to be able to see Jesus. He was desperate for change. Jesus doesn’t care who he is. All he cares is that there is someone ready and willing for the gospel. Jesus did not care about the labels placed upon a person. He just wanted all to come to know Him. He wanted all to be joined with him in heaven. He came to seek the lost. He came to reconcile us to Himself. Zaccheus responds to the gospel. He comes down from the tree. Isn’t symbolic that we have climbed into trees ourselves in our sins and we need rescue. We need to Jesus to get us to leave our tree and come to him. Zaccheus responded by coming down. Zaccheus responds to the gospel. Zaccheus is restored by the gospel. He is made whole by Jesus. He is not despised by Jesus. He is redeemed by Jesus.

The next characters that we see are the Jews in this scene. They are grumbling because Jesus invites himself to the home of a known sinner. They are more comfortable with a world where they can write people off and make the world black and white. Labels. Write-offs. It makes their world smaller and easier to deal with. The Jews used the law to write people off. Instead of the law convicting us of our sins and pointing to our need for repentance, forgiveness, and a Savior, the Jews used it to make people into permanently excluded classes of people. Aren’t we like that today. Do we write-off gay people as no longer good enough for the gospel? Do we write-off the unwed mother as no longer good enough for the gospel? Do we write-off the stripper and the drug addict and the alcoholic and the adulterer as no longer good enough for the gospel? Jesus says that we are wrong. He came to seek the lost not the found. He came to bring the lost sheep back into the fold. We are to love the unlovable. We are to see all as worthy of the gospel. We cannot afford to sit in our ivory towers and condemn a world gone wrong. We are to get out there and get messy and spread the gospel to a dying world not just save it for ourselves.

And then we come to Jesus himself. He is the main character of course. He invites himself into Zaccheus home. He didn’t care about labels. He didn’t care at all. He was concerned about he soul of the man rather than the labels of the man. Jesus. Jesus sees the change of heart in Zaccheus. He knows that because of the gospel, Zaccheus has vowed to repay fourfold any taxes that he collected that were usurious. “He received him joyfully” implies that Zacchaeus hurried down from the tree and received Jesus joyfully into his house. Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house—where we are now standing—because he, too, is a son of Abraham.” Salvation is granted by Jesus here. It comes from Him not because of efforts or vows. Jesus saw the heart of the man had changed. He is given the gift of salvation. He reconciles Zaccheus into the family of God’s chosen. No matter your past, no matter what you have done. Jesus can redeem you. Jesus gives the gift of salvation to hearts that seek Him. Salvation comes to those who seek Him. There is no sin so great that you cannot be redeemed by the main character of this story.

Action not words. Our understanding of redemption for our own lives must be expressed in love for those who are considered unlovable by society. It might not be cool. It might be socially and politically correct. We are called to love without exception. All are to be included in the hearing of the gospel. Just because someone is gay, they are not to be excluding from the hearing of the gospel. They are not to be excluded from our love. Just because someone is an adulterer does not exclude them from the hearing of the gospel. They are not to be excluded from our love. Just because someone is a prostitute does not exclude them from hearing the gospel. It does not exclude them from our love. Just because a person has political views that are radically opposed to yours does not exlude them from hearing the gospel and it does not exclude them from our love. Our actions must be more than mere words. We are to love our neighbors even when they are unloveable.

We learned from Luke that the gospel is for everyone. No one is excluded. We don’t get to make that choice. We learn from the city of Jericho that curses are the result of disobedience and are meant for correction not permanent exclusion. Jesus’ presence there means all things can be redeemed. We learn from Zaccheus that a changed heart is evidenced by its fruit! All can be redeemed. We must love all and carry the message to all. We learn from the people of Israel that just because you don’t have a broken past doesn’t necessarily guarantee you anything if your heart is full of pride. If you say all the right things but cast people aside and condemn them and refuse to love them, your fruit is rotten! We learn from Jesus that his was a ministry to find the lost – to return them to their rightful place in the family. Saved at 7 or Saved at 70, being found by Christ is what matters. Jesus did not care about labels. He did not exclude. He included. If we are to be more and more like Christ, we are to do no less. Include not exclude. Love not hate. Action not words! Amen.

Luke 18:35-43— Careful what you ask for, the old saying goes, you just might get it. We often think we want something but when we find out what it takes to get it, we give up on it. I think this concept plays into what we learn from today’s passage.

There are several things that jump out at you in this passage. First, it takes a blind man to see the Messiah. Second, he would not be turned away very easily because he repeated his request. Third, why does Jesus ask the question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Isn’t it obvious?

The first thing that strikes me here is that this blind hears that Jesus of Nazareth is passing by. He immediately begins shouting (not speaking but shouting), “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy upon me!” It is so interesting that immediately upon hearing the name of Jesus, he recognizes that he is the Messiah. He calls Him Son of David. Son of David was a reference to the fact that the predicted Messiah in the Old Testament was to come from the lineage of David. Son of David then became an equivalent term for the Messiah. A blind man could see the Messiah but many of the religious leaders of the day could not see this fact even though they had sight. As a beggar, the normal operation was to beg passersby for money. But this blind beggar did not ask Jesus for money. He asks him for mercy. That means that he recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Have mercy on me. Show concern for me. Grant me relief. The beggar must of heard of Jesus’ ministry for him to ask Jesus for mercy. Mercy would be to lift him out of the state of life in which the beggar finds himself. He had heard of the wonderful miracles of Jesus. He was willing to throw himself at Jesus feet and ask for mercy. The lowly and humble seem to be able to see the Messiah more easily than the proud and self-sufficient. It was the pride of the religious elite that prevented them from seeing Jesus as the Son of David and throwing themselves at His feet and ask for mercy. Are you to proud to see the Messiah? Do you have a sense of self-sufficiency that prevents you from humbling yourself before the Lord? This beggar was able and willing to cast aside any pride and throw himself at the feet of Jesus. When we find ourselves mired in the sins of our lives, will we finally cry out to Jesus for mercy? How deep does your pit have to go before you cry out to Him?

The second thing that you will notice here is that after the recognition and pursuit of the Messiah, the beggar is told to keep quiet. He told basically not to continue trying to reach the Messiah. He is, thank goodness, persistent in the effort to reach the Messiah. He not only shouted once. He kept on shouting. He was told to keep quiet. Isn’t this also like the situation we find ourselves in when we first seek out Jesus. We see the mess of our lives and we begin to seek out for something more than the mess that we are in. We begin to seek out this Jesus thing. Many though will see our sin, our history of bad behavior, our history of not being good enough, our history of turning our nose up at God in our blindness, and will tell us to keep away from the Messiah. We don’t deserve the opportunity to address him. Either our old playground’s playmates will try to draw us back into our old lifestyle or the new playground’s playmates that we are trying to enter will appear to or may actually reject us trying to enter their playground. Beggars want us to stay with them begging. At the same time, many will not believe that we are serious about seeking the Messiah. You know that old beggar. He will be back to his old ways in no time. Let’s not accept him because we can’t waste our time on fakers. He just had a spiritual warm-fuzzy experience. He was not truly saved. Just watch. Help us Lord to leave our old life behind and be persistent in our pursuit of our new life. We must continue shouting His name. We must continue pursuing Him. We must focus on Him. Just as Peter could walk on water when he was focusing on Jesus ahead of him and fell into the water when he looked away. We must always keep our pursuit of Jesus as the forefront in our mind and soul. We cannot let detractors bring doubt into our mind. When we worry about what others think and say, it takes our focus off Jesus. Let us keep on invoking the name of the Messiah. Let us shout His name constantly. Never let anything deter you from pursuing the Son of David.

The final thing that is striking here is that Jesus asks the beggar a seemingly silly question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Duh, Jesus! The man is blind. What do you think He wants? Why does Jesus ask this question? Jesus is the Son of God so He already knows what the man wants. He sees his heart. I think Jesus asks the question for the benefit of the blind beggar. It will help him articulate what he really wants from Jesus. Sometimes, we cry out to Jesus but we really don’t want to change our situation. Some of us have become so comfortable in the culture of dependence that we have created that to change it would be too radical. Think of someone you know that seems to use their disabilities as a way to keep people doing things for them. They manipulate people through pity by using their disabilities to get what they want. We all know the type. Some of us too are comfortable in our sins. We pay lip service to wanting to change but we are rather comfortable with our favorite sins. We want to follow Jesus but it would mean to us that we would have to give up playgrounds and playmates that we don’t want to give up. Just as in the previous passage about the rich young man where the young man did not really want to fully sell out for Jesus because he was addicted to his wealth more than He wanted to follow Jesus. Sometimes, we cry out to Jesus but are not willing to let go of that which has become our custom, our god, our crutch, our schtick, our thing that identifies us, the thing in which we find our identity. To accept a new identity in Christ might me too much for us. We want to follow Jesus but…Here, Jesus wanted the beggar to vocalize his faith. The beggar wanted to see. There is more than sight here. He wants to change is his life. He truly wants to follow Jesus. His faith changes him. Jesus grants his request. The beggar then immediately becomes part of the family of Jesus and follows him. Leaving his old life behind immediately. In contrast to the rich young man, he accepts what Jesus offers and does not look back. He follows Jesus immediately. His faith is evident in the following immediately. He praises God for what has been done for him. No looking back. Only praising. Are you willing to give up your old life and follow Jesus? Are you the rich young ruler who can’t or are you the blind beggar who can?

Father, oh Father, give me the faith of the blind man to pursue you with all my heart. Father, help me to see that I must always keep my focus on you no matter what Satan tries to say to me directly or through other people. Help me to lay down all my pet sins and follow you with all my heart each and every day. Amen.