A Man Willing To Give It All Back

Luke 1910 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 19:1–10 (ESV)

1 He entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

If you grew up going to church, you are probably familiar with this story. You may have even learned a catchy little song about this incident. Zacchaeus was a tax collector. They were despised by the Jewish people and thought of as traitors and thieves. They both worked for the Romans and cheated their own people out of money to line their own pockets. This is why we often read of the “tax collectors and sinners” listed together. They were thought of as the lowest of the low.

Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, but he was too short to see over the crowds. To get a better view, he climbed a tree. While he was in his tree, Jesus passed by and called up to Zacchaeus to climb down because he desired to go to his house with him. Zacchaeus immediately got down and welcomed Jesus. Of course, many grumbled that Jesus would spend time with someone so unworthy!

When Zacchaeus came to face to face with Jesus, he promised to give back all of the money he had cheated from people and to give back four times what he had taken! In response to Zacchaeus’ words and willingness to do what was right, Jesus declared, “Today salvation has come to this house.”

This account comes after a series of passages where Jesus addresses money, possessions, and coveting. In the previous chapter (cf. Luke 18:18-30), we read of the rich young ruler who was unwilling to give up his possessions to gain eternal life. Zacchaeus serves as the contrast to that mindset. Zacchaeus was willing to give up all that he had to receive what truly mattered: salvation and eternal life. Through his words and actions, Zacchaeus showed where his heart was and what he truly valued. He desired Jesus and the things of God. He wanted to do what was right and turn from what was wrong. In short, he was repentant and trusting in the words of Jesus and it changed his life.

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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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The Father Is Waiting

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Reading the Word

Luke 15:25–32 (ESV)

25 “Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. 27 And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ 28 But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, 29 but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’ 31 And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32 It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’ ”

Understanding and Applying the Word

Yesterday, we looked at the Parable of the Prodigal Son. The parable is titled based upon a son who took his inheritance, left home, and wasted all he had. The son returned home and was welcomed in celebration by his father. That is the part of the story we remember and focus on, but that is not the end of the parable. The story has two sons.

The father had another son who was older and who never left home. He stayed and served in the family home by working in the fields with all of the servants. When the older son heard that his younger brother, the one who had gone away and wasted everything, had returned home, he was not happy. His brother did not deserve a party after all he had done! He said to his father, “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends.”

To feel the full force of this parable, we must understand this older son. The first son represented the tax collectors and sinners who were drawing near to Jesus (cf. Luke 15:1). They were hearing the teaching of Jesus and repenting of their sins and turning to God. The older son represented the Pharisees and scribes who were angry that Jesus was spending time with sinners who did not deserve such attention (cf. Luke 15:2). You can almost hear the Pharisees saying, “Why are you spending time with them? We are the ones who deserve the attention. We are the ones who have kept all of the rules, but you do not spend any time with us!”

The father in the parable tried to get the older son to go in and join the celebration, but he would not. He was too righteous to join in with his brother, so he remained outside. The same could be said for the Pharisees. Jesus’ teaching invited them to repent of their sins and enter into the kingdom just as the tax collectors and sinners were doing, but the Pharisees would not. They were too righteous to join in with such sinners, so they remained outside.

The gospel calls us all to repentance. We must acknowledge our need of forgiveness and turn to Jesus. None of us deserve the rewards of the kingdom, but God is a gracious and forgiving Father waiting for us all to return home.

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A Matter of the Heart

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Reading the Word

Mark 7:1–23 (ESV)

1 Now when the Pharisees gathered to him, with some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem, 2 they saw that some of his disciples ate with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. 3 (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they wash their hands properly, holding to the tradition of the elders, 4 and when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. And there are many other traditions that they observe, such as the washing of cups and pots and copper vessels and dining couches.) 5 And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6 And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,

“ ‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
7 in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

8 You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

9 And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11 But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban” ’ (that is, given to God)— 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

14 And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: 15 There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” 17 And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, 19 since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20 And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Parallel Text: Matthew 15:1-20

Understanding and Applying the Word

The Pharisees and scribes complained that Jesus’ followers were eating without washing their hands properly. This is an example of how the religious leaders had established their own rules about how things should be done that were not a part of God’s word. Jesus responded by quoting from Isaiah 29:13 and accusing the Pharisees with going through the outward motions of holiness while their hearts were not in the right place. Jesus then stressed that what goes into the body does not defile it. It is the things that come from the heart that defile a person. Sin is ultimately a heart issue.

With these words, we find a warning against religious activity and legalism. Both of these concern themselves with external actions and measure themselves by adhering to such actions: regular church attendance, financial gifts, not watching TV or going to the movies, not drinking alcohol, not working on Sunday, etc. While there may be good reasons for some of these actions listed, the religious person and the legalist uses lists of dos and don’ts to show they are spiritual and in a right relationship to God. They fail to see that their hearts are desperately wicked and that they are in need of grace and forgiveness.

Religious activity and the ability to keep rules will never save anyone. We must realize our sinfulness and call out to Christ for forgiveness. It is only by the righteousness that he gives to us and the penalty for sin that he pays for us that allows us to stand before a holy God. In this passage we are forced to ask ourselves what we are counting on to make us right with God. Only Christ will do.

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Do You Need To Be Noticed?

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Reading the Word

Matthew 6:1–4 (ESV)

1 “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.
2 “Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Understanding and Applying the Word

Why do we do the things we do? Motivations are important. They are important to God. Jesus tells us that we must be careful not to do good things so that others will see us. If our motivation is to be recognized by others and receive a nice pat on the back or lofty praise, we have it all wrong. This does not please the Father and we should expect no reward from him. The only reward we will receive is the pat on the back or praise we have received from others.

Instead, we should practice doing right, but without expectation or need to have others notice. Our only motivation is that we want to please the Father, the one who created us and the one who sent his Son into the world for our salvation. In the end, he will reward us even if no one else ever notices the things we have done. And in the end, that is all that will truly matter.

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What then Shall We Do?

colossians 110 [widescreen]

Reading the Word

Luke 3:10–14 (ESV)

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.” 12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized and said to him, “Teacher, what shall we do?” 13 And he said to them, “Collect no more than you are authorized to do.” 14 Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what shall we do?” And he said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or by false accusation, and be content with your wages.”

Understanding and Applying the Word

In yesterday’s reading, John the Baptist proclaimed, “Bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Luke 3:8). He warned them that judgment would come. Not surprisingly, after his warning, the people come and asked, “What then shall we do?” In effect, they were asking, “What does it look like to bear such fruit?”

There are three different groups that approach John and he gives three answers for us to consider. The first group, the crowd, is the first to ask what they should do. His reply is in verse 11: be willing to share with those who are in need. The second group are tax collectors. John tells them in verse 13 to be fair with the people. They are not to take extra from them. The last group, soldiers, also want to know how they should live. John tells them to be content with their wages and not to extort the people through threats and lies (verse 14).

The people of God are called to live differently from the world. We are to be generous towards others, fair in our dealings, and content with what we have. How are you living your life in Christ? Do your life bring glory to your Lord?

**Shaped by the Word is a daily, Bible-reading devotional. Please subscribe to this page so you can follow along each day. We are reading through the life of Christ as recorded in the four Gospel accounts in 2019.

The Lord Is Righteous and Kind

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Reading the Word

Psalm 145:10–21 (ESV)

10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD,
and all your saints shall bless you!
11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom
and tell of your power,
12 to make known to the children of man your mighty deeds,
and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.
13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom,
and your dominion endures throughout all generations.

The LORD is faithful in all his words
and kind in all his works.
14 The LORD upholds all who are falling
and raises up all who are bowed down.
15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16 You open your hand;
you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
17 The LORD is righteous in all his ways
and kind in all his works.
18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.
19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him;
he also hears their cry and saves them.
20 The LORD preserves all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,
and let all flesh bless his holy name forever and ever.

Understanding and Applying the Word

This psalm proclaims the Lord’s goodness and tells us why he is deserving of praise. The Lord lifts up those who are low, he provides food to all, he is near to those who call, and he saves those who cry out to him. He does what is right and he is kind in all he does.

As we reflect on the words of this psalm it is Christmas Eve. This is a wonderful time of the year to reflect on God’s righteousness and goodness. Christmas is the time of the year when we celebrate the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. It is through Christ that we find salvation from our sin and hope for the future. It is at this time of the year when we can especially see that the Lord is truly righteous and kind in all he does. Let us remember to give him the praise he deserves.

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A Defense Against Sin

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Reading the Word

Psalm 141:1–10 (ESV)

1 O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me!
Give ear to my voice when I call to you!
2 Let my prayer be counted as incense before you,
and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!

3 Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth;
keep watch over the door of my lips!
4 Do not let my heart incline to any evil,
to busy myself with wicked deeds
in company with men who work iniquity,
and let me not eat of their delicacies!

5 Let a righteous man strike me—it is a kindness;
let him rebuke me—it is oil for my head;
let my head not refuse it.
Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds.
6 When their judges are thrown over the cliff,
then they shall hear my words, for they are pleasant.
7 As when one plows and breaks up the earth,
so shall our bones be scattered at the mouth of Sheol.

8 But my eyes are toward you, O GOD, my Lord;
in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless!
9 Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me
and from the snares of evildoers!
10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets,
while I pass by safely.

Understanding and Applying the Word

In this psalm, David calls on God to protect him from sin. He asks that the Lord would guard his mouth and his heart that he might not speak or desire evil (vv. 3-4). He also asks that God would make him receptive to the correction of the righteous (v. 5).

It is difficult to admit when we are wrong. It is especially difficult to admit we are wrong when someone else lets us know it. We immediately become defensive and seek to justify our words and actions. We must remember that God has placed others in our lives to help us defeat sin. Others are able to see things that we may be blind to or help us deal with sin that we have become callous to. Let us pray that the Lord would keep us from sin and that we would be receptive to the words of others who are there to help us grow and turn from sin.

**Want to read the Bible every day? Be sure to subscribe to this page and follow along! We are currently reading through the Book of Psalms. In 2019, we will focus on the Life of Christ for our daily readings.

Your Law Is True

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Reading the Word

Psalm 119:137–144 (ESV)

137 Righteous are you, O Lord, and right are your rules. 138 You have appointed your testimonies in righteousness and in all faithfulness. 139 My zeal consumes me, because my foes forget your words. 140 Your promise is well tried, and your servant loves it. 141 I am small and despised, yet I do not forget your precepts. 142 Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true. 143 Trouble and anguish have found me out, but your commandments are my delight. 144 Your testimonies are righteous forever; give me understanding that I may live.

Understanding and Applying the Word

The psalmist declares, “Righteous are you, O Lord, and right are your rules…Your righteousness is righteous forever, and your law is true…Your testimonies are righteous forever.”

We live in a world that believes truth is relative. What is true for you may not be true for me. Truth depends on our backgrounds and circumstances. Truth depends on our feelings and beliefs. This is the claim of the world, but it stands in conflict with the word of God.

God’s word tells us that there is absolute, universal truth. There are truths that are not dependent on our backgrounds, circumstances, feelings, or personal beliefs. They are true for all people in all times. They are true because the righteous Creator and Lord of all has told us they are true. We do not get to decide what is true, but we can choose to submit to or rebel against God and his word. May we delight in the truth and live according to the what God has written in his word.

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