The Self-Righteous

Luke 1813–14 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 18:9–14 (ESV)

9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

This parable addresses the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. Jesus tells of two men who went to the temple to pray. The first, a Pharisee, thanked God that he was not like the sinners of the world. He even commented on his own righteousness by mentioning that he fasted twice per week and tithed on his earnings. The second, a tax collector, could hardly bring himself to the temple to pray. He stood far away and kept his eyes to the ground in shame and humility. He called out to God for mercy for his sins. Jesus ended the parable by saying that it was the tax collector who went home justified, not the Pharisee.

The reason for this parable is given in the opening verse. It was to address those who were self-righteous and looked down on others. Those who are in a right relationship with God have acknowledged their own sin and repented of it. We have asked God to forgive us based not on what we have done, but solely on what Jesus has done for us. He went to the cross as a sacrifice for our sin. If we believe we are righteous by our own doing and somehow deserve God’s blessing, we deceive ourselves and do not belong to God at all. Salvation comes only by grace to sinners who are undeserving.

When we acknowledge our own sin, it should make us humble. We should not look down on others. Instead, we should point fellow sinners to Jesus Christ and tell of the forgiveness and grace that are available to all who will believe.

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God Is Just

Luke 181 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 18:1–8 (ESV)

1 And he told them a parable to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. 2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected man. 3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Give me justice against my adversary.’ 4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor respect man, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by her continual coming.’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. 7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? 8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Some read this parable and understand it to mean that if we bother God enough by continuing to ask him for something, that he will eventually give us what we want. Is that really what this is saying? Can we wear God down by asking him over and over again? I do not think that is Jesus’ point.

A better way to understand Jesus’ teaching here is to know that Jesus is not saying the judge is like God, but that he is unlike him. This is a parable of contrast. The judge is unrighteous. God is perfectly righteous. So, if an unrighteous judge will eventually do what is right when asked, how much more will the righteous Judge (i.e. God) do what is right – and it will not be necessary to wear him down to get him to do it either! Jesus was teaching us that we can trust in God to be righteous and judge wickedness in the end. We can turn to him in prayer and trust in him each and every day even in the difficult times. The righteous Judge will do what is right.

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Are You Ready?

lightning during nighttime

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Reading the Word

Luke 17:22–37 (ESV)

22 And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. 23 And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. 24 For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. 26 Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. 27 They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. 28 Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, 29 but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— 30 so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. 31 On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. 32 Remember Lot’s wife. 33 Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. 34 I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. 35 There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” 37 And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus told his disciples that a day was coming when he would not be with them, but they would long to see him again. However, he warns them not to believe false teachers who claim that Jesus had returned in a secret or hidden way. His return will be known and visible to all, just as lightning that lights up the sky.

Jesus’ return will be open and known, but it will come suddenly and unexpectedly. Just as in Noah’s day before the floods came, the people of the earth were living life as usual and suddenly they were swept away. In Lot’s day, they were going about their normal lives until fire and sulfur destroyed them all. At Jesus’ return, it will catch many unprepared. Two will be in bed. One will be taken and one left. Two will be grinding at the mill. One will be taken and the other left.

The point of Jesus’ teaching here is to teach us that we must be prepared for Jesus’ return. He could return at any moment and when he does, some will be ready and others will not. We ready ourselves by repenting of our sin and trusting in Jesus Christ, the one who died as a sacrifice for sin and rose again victorious over death. When we repent and trust in Jesus our sins are forgiven, we are reconciled to God by grace, and we are promised eternal life in the presence of our Lord and gathered with the people of God.

Are you ready? What if Jesus returned today?

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In Those Days

island during golden hour and upcoming storm

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Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. I do not publish supplemental material on Sundays, but I do included a Scripture reading for the day. Please be sure to subscribe so you can follow along each day. We are reading through the life of Christ in 2019.

Reading the Word

Mark 13:19–23 (ESV)

19 For in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation that God created until now, and never will be. 20 And if the Lord had not cut short the days, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect, whom he chose, he shortened the days. 21 And then if anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘Look, there he is!’ do not believe it. 22 For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform signs and wonders, to lead astray, if possible, the elect. 23 But be on guard; I have told you all things beforehand.

The Kingdom through Jesus

The Pharisees Question Jesus

The Pharisees Question Jesus (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Luke 17:20–21 (ESV)

20 Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom would come. His response was that the kingdom was not coming in a visual way, as they were expecting. The were likely expecting some type of apocalyptic events surrounding the kingdom’s arrival. Instead, Jesus said, “[T]he kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

The phrase “the kingdom of God is in the midst of you” can also be translated “is within you.” If you compare the most popular Bible translations you will find both translations represented. What did Jesus mean by this statement? Some take the phrase “is within you” to mean that the kingdom is within your heart. However, that makes no sense since Jesus is speaking to the Pharisees who have rejected him. They do not have the kingdom within their hearts. Also, nowhere in the rest of Scripture is the kingdom spoken of as something that is internalized. It seems better to translate the phrase as “in the midst of you.” In this sense, Jesus is saying that the kingdom has come and is present in his teaching and works. Jesus made the same point in Luke 11:20.

By telling the Pharisees that the kingdom had arrived with his coming, Jesus was emphasizing that belonging to the kingdom would be dependent on how one responded to him. Would the Pharisees accept Jesus or would they continue to reject and resist him? We have the same choice before us today. Jesus presents the kingdom to all who will repent and believe. What will we do?

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Responding to God’s Grace

The Healing of Ten Lepers

The Healing of Ten Lepers (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Luke 17:11–19 (ESV)

11 On the way to Jerusalem he was passing along between Samaria and Galilee. 12 And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance 13 and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” 14 When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed. 15 Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; 16 and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. 17 Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine? 18 Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

This passage tells us of ten lepers whom Jesus healed. The passage does not focus so much on the healing as it does the reaction to the healing. As Jesus was traveling, ten lepers stood at a distance and called out to him for mercy. This would have been quite normal since lepers were not supposed to get close to others. Jesus sent them to the priests, which was part of the Law. The priests had the responsibility of examining the lepers and pronouncing them clean. All ten went to the priests and were cleansed of their disease as they went.

Only one of the healed men returned. He returned to praise God and to thank Jesus for what he had done. The surprising thing is that this one was not a Jew, but a Samaritan. The other nine had simply gone away. This fits what we have seen in other places in Luke. Outsiders often responded to Jesus in great faith, while many Jews, especially the religious leaders, rejected him.

There are multiple things to learn from this account. The leper returned praising God and thanking Jesus. He recognized that God was at work through Jesus. Also, there should be gratitude and thanksgiving for God’s grace in our lives. And lastly, the gospel is for all people. Over and over again, it is the outsider that responds in worship and faith while those we would expect to follow Jesus actually turn away. It is often those we least expect who respond to the gospel.

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Only What Was Our Duty

Due to the Independence Day holiday and spending time with my family, I am only posting a suggested Scripture reading today. There is no devotional content. Thanks for reading. Have a great holiday if you are in the U.S.A. If you have not already done so, please be sure to subscribe to this page so you can follow along every day.

Reading the Word

Luke 17:7–10 (ESV)

7 “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8 Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9 Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”

Increase Our Faith

King of the hill in Arizona sunset

Reading the Word

Luke 17:5–6 (ESV)

5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 And the Lord said, “If you had faith like a grain of mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Jesus’ disciples, after hearing him teach asked him to increase their faith. They wanted the amount of faith necessary to live according to Jesus’ words. Jesus’ response shows us that the apostles were thinking wrongly about faith. Jesus does not tell them how to increase in faith, but tells them that the faith of a mustard seed is sufficient. A mustard seed was often used in proverbial illustrations to speak of the smallest measure. In saying that mustard seed faith was sufficient, Jesus made the point that it is not the amount of faith, but the object of faith that is important. Faith must be in God and his word. When one trusts in God, even what seems impossible becomes possible.

When we place our faith in God, we understand that he is the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator of all things. Nothing is too difficult for him. This does not mean that he will do whatever we ask him as “name-it-claim-it” prosperity theology teaches. It does mean that when we seek to live our lives for the Lord and do his will, he enables us to do so, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Who or what are you trusting in?

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A Story About a Lover of Money

Poor Lazarus at the Rich Man's Door

The Poor Lazarus at the Rich Man’s Door (Public Domain)

Reading the Word

Luke 16:19–31 (ESV)

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Often mistaken as a historical account, this parable is commonly referred to as The Rich Man and Lazarus. Jesus is still addressing the Pharisees who Luke calls “lovers of money.” Luke’s Gospel speaks a great deal about the proper place of money and possessions and warns about covetousness. Jesus calls us to use our wealth for the glory of God and to further the kingdom rather than hoarding it for our own selfish desires.

The parable describes a poor man named Lazarus and an unnamed rich man. Lazarus, who was also covered in sores, was a beggar who desired to eat some of the food that would fall from the rich man’s plate. When the two died, Lazarus is ushered to the side of Abraham with the people of God. The rich man, on the other hand, went to Hades and was in constant torment every day. This would have been quite shocking since wealth was seen as the blessing of God and poverty, God’s curse. Jesus’ hearers would have expected opposite fates for the rich man and Lazarus.

In Hades, the rich man called out for relief, but none was granted. Instead, he was told that he had enjoyed all of his good things in life. Rather than obey the Scriptures by loving others such as Lazarus and putting the things of God first, the rich man had lived selfishly with no regard for God or others. As a result, God’s judgment had fallen upon him and it was fixed.

Jesus spoke a great deal about our attitude towards wealth because our attitude towards money and possessions is a key indicator of our relationship with the Lord. When our relationship with the Lord is healthy, money is understood as a tool that is necessary for life in this world and as an opportunity for us to glorify God. We can use our wealth to further the kingdom of God in the world by helping the poor, giving to our church, or supporting missionaries on the field, etc. However, if we cling too tightly to our money and think of it only as our own, we reveal that we have an idol. All we have is the Lord’s and how we use it tells us a great deal about ourselves.

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Easy Divorce

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Reading the Word

Luke 16:18 (ESV)

18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

Parallel Texts: Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:11-12

Understanding and Applying the Word

Luke’s Gospel does only addresses the issue of divorce in this one verse. Matthew 5:31-32, Matthew 19:9, and Mark 10:11-12 give us a fuller understanding of Jesus’ teaching on this topic. Jesus’ teaching on divorce went against the common Jewish practice of his day. The common understanding, based on Deuteronomy 24:1-4, said that a husband could divorce his wife if he “found some indecency in her.” This was taken to mean that if the husband found anything at all he did not like about his wife, he could divorce her. This was known as an “any cause” divorce.

Jesus’ teaching stood in stark contrast to the accepted practice of divorce in his day. Jesus taught that marriage was given by God and that when a man and woman married the two became one. This union was to be lasting and only the most severe things should be cause for divorce. So, when a man and woman divorced for small or minor reasons, such a divorce was not recognized by God. When the man or woman then entered into a union with another, they were guilty of adultery because the previous marriage was still in force in the eyes of God.

Sadly, we have become a culture that treats marriage and divorce much like the people Jesus was addressing. We are quick to divorce due to the smallest problems, rather than keeping our vows to remain committed even in the difficult times. Our marriages are supposed to be a picture of God’s relationship with us. Though we are often guilty of neglecting him, he remains faithful to us and stands ready to forgive and renew. We need to learn to practice the same patience, forgiveness, and grace in our marriages if they are to last and reflect the love of God.

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