The Magnificat

Mary’s song of praise is typically a passage read, studied, and preached during the Advent season. However, for those who are committed to expositional preaching the Magnificat is glorious trove to be mined in the course of preaching Luke, regardless of the time of year. In it we find invaluable nuggets of timeless Truth concerning the nature and character of God, the soul’s response when God’s glory is revealed, and even a panoramic presentation of historical redemption. Mary, I believe, deposits a model of praise for believers in all times as she identifies the Person of her praise and fills the air God-honoring exaltation.

The Person of Mary’s Praise

Mary’s heart erupts in elation toward the One in whom she trusts, namely, the Lord God her Savior. As a young Jewish girl, Mary clearly knew the Scriptures and recognized that she not only needed a Savior to redeem her but also that the only Deliverer who could ever accomplish such a task would be none other than Yahweh, Himself. God identifies Himself, in Isaiah 43, as Yahweh, the only God, Israel’s Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel, the Creator, their King, and the only Savior.

After having received the overwhelming news from God’s messenger, Gabriel, that she would be carrying the Messiah, the Redeemer, the One who “would save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21), Mary’s heart burst with joy, adoration, and praise toward the One who was fulfilling what was promised to her people. Notice that the focal point of Mary’s praise was directed to where it belongs, upon God alone. In the ESV the phrase “he has” is either clearly stated or directly implied nine times in six verses. Mary sought no attention for herself, no honor for her role, nor did she see herself as anything other than a recipient of the grace of God as a vessel to accomplish His plan of salvation.

The Person of Mary’s praise was none other than the One, True, Living God, the Only God, the Savior of Mankind. The God of Heaven came to man, taking on flesh & infirmities; the Omnipotent Creator was a defenseless baby, in utero, dependent for sustenance upon this teenage girl who carried Him & praised Him for His coming salvation.

Believers today would find themselves in great company if our praise were to focus on God alone. But that is not always the case.

Too often, the Gospel of Jesus Christ is an add-on to our busy conversations that center around us, our feelings, and our responses to the Gospel. Clearly, everyone responds to the Gospel and I don’t want to throw the baby out with the bath water but wouldn’t our praise be more appropriate if there was less conversation about “me” and more conversation/praise directed toward Him?

Can you tell me about your conversion without telling me what you do now that you’ve been saved? Can you tell me about God, your Savior, without telling me about when you were baptized, how often you attend worship, or what your Bible reading and prayer life look like? Can you tell me of His glory in creating you? Tell me of His mercy when He didn’t destroy you in your sin? Tell me of His grace in sending His Son? Tell me of the preservation of His Word that you might know who Jesus is? Tell me of Christ’s perfection and beauty and splendor in obeying God’s Law? Tell me of His substitutionary atoning sacrifice? Tell me of His resurrection, His saving you, sanctifying you, and promise to complete this work?

In other words, is your testimony of God’s work in your life more about your work in your life or more like Mary’s hymn of praise for the One who sees His people’s need, does great things for them and to them and through them, and who humbles the proud but exalts the humble through His Arm, His Servant, His Offspring? Oh that Christ would be preeminent in our praise!

May we, as Mary was, be found with our lips full of His praise as we “Praise Him, praise Him, tell of His excellent greatness…” (Fanny Crosby).

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The Fullness of Time & the Focal Point of All Things

“…Christians of all times and places have professed that Christ himself is the center of our preaching, our gospel, and our theology. Christianity is Christ…Our first allegiance is not to a set of eternal truths, as in Buddhism or Platonism, but to a person who lived in history to save us and who lives eternally as our heavenly High Priest.”[1]

Christianity is Christ. Every passage, every person, and every exploit from “Let there be light…”[2] to “And night will be no more…”[3] was either working toward this thirty-three-year window or pointing back to it. At least that is what the Apostle Paul believed when he penned “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”[4]

The angel Gabriel’s announcement, in Luke 1:26-38, concerning the conception of the Christ has this same end in mind; namely, the baby to be born is the Christ promised from long ago, the Center of Things. The point of God’s announcement is not Mary, it’s not Christmas, but Christ. Packed into the announcement is God’s pronouncement that this child is the Christ as seen in 1) The timing of His birth, 2) The location of His birth, 3) The means of His birth, 4) The family tree of His birth, & 5) the method of His Conception

The Timing of His Birth

As provided for us in the passage preceding, there would be born before Him a forerunner who would “make ready for the Lord a people prepared” (vs. 17). So, when Gabriel visits Mary to inform her of God’s intentions it should be no surprise that we find God declaring His intentions “In the sixth month…” (vs 26). Given the prophetic fulfillment of Malachi 3 & 4 concerning this forerunner, believers can take confidence in the timing of Jesus birth.

The Location of His Birth

A red-flag should rise when we hear that God sent Gabriel to virgin in Nazareth (Luke 1:26). The Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2) and this young teenage girl was almost 100 miles north of God’s designated place of birth for the Christ. Of course, having Luke 2 we read how God moved the desires, intentions, & plans of Rome’s emperor and by His divine hand the Christ from Nazareth would be born exactly where God required. God Almighty moves the heart of the kings and turns it as He wills; He needs not the king’s approval or cooperation.

The Mean of His Birth

In spite of liberal theologian’s attempts to discredit the virgin-birth prophecy of Isaiah 7:14, Luke, Matthew, and Mary herself confirm that God’s intended meaning of Isaiah’s prophecy was that the impossibility of virgin birth would meet the Omnipotent King of Creation. “This took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet…” (Mt. 1:22). If God declared it would be, of course, it would come to be for who could “thwart his plans?”

The Family Tree of His Birth

Gabriel announces that the virgin-born boy would be “the Son of the Most High” and the offspring of “his father David.” This multi-layered proclamation assures the Christian that this Messiah would be both God and man. That Jesus’ family tree would be of divine origin and yet still retaining true humanity. He would need to be both “God-with-us” (Immanuel) and “us” so that “He might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.”[5] God’s announcement given through his messenger Gabriel confirms, both, Christ’s deity and humanity, permitting Christ to become both the Just and the Justifier.

The Method of His Conception

Luke 1 provides for us a trinitarian movement in the conception and incarnation of Jesus the Christ. Believers can take great confidence as they see the Father’s plan (vs. 26), the Spirit’s power (vs. 35), and the Son’s presence (vs. 32,35) all working in perfect harmony bringing us to “the fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4). Reminiscent of God’s creative majesty in Genesis 1, the Spirit of God overshadows the emptiness of Mary’s womb, much like He hovered over the emptiness of a formless world, and from the Father’s eternal plan, the Eternal Son takes on material being. “For nothing will be impossible with God” (Lk 1:37). From creation ex nihilo to conception in a virgin from Divine origin, nothing is too hard for God (Jeremiah 32:27).

God’s word to Mary, from Gabriel, is a repository of faith-strengthening truth that encouraged and emboldened both the original recipient, Mary, and generations of believers for 2000 years. May we feast upon God’s faithfulness and he strengthens our faith in His Truth, Jesus Christ.

Citations:

[1] John Frame, Systematic Theology

[2] Genesis 1:3

[3] Revelation 22:5

[4] Galatians 4:4-5

[5] Hebrews 2:17

Luke: The Faith-growing Gospel

Greetings, salutations, introductions, and openers are generally overlooked, ignored, and discounted. They are often viewed as the “lets get this out of the way because the content of what is written is what’s important.” But for the student of Scripture, the one who genuinely believes that all Scripture is breathed out by God, even the introduction is given to us by God and is profitable for teaching, reproof, correcting, and training in righteousness. Luke’s introduction is just that; praise God!

In Luke’s introduction (Luke 1:1-4) a few gems sparkle brighter than the rest. Luke informs “most excellent Theophilus” (Friend of God) that the purpose of his writing this Gospel is to (1) provide an orderly account, a logically flowing narrative of the Christ’s life, ministry, death, burial, & resurrection & (2) that Luke was offering it to him “that [he] may have certainty concerning the things [he] has been taught” (Lk 1:4). What a joy this must have been for Theophilus, the gentile convert, to have an orderly, logical account intended to solidify his already laid down faith. Just as concrete laid, in time, grows to profound strength, so too Luke’s Gospel will take the faith already laid and harden it into a firm foundation in our souls.

An Orderly Account

One need not “check his brain at the door” of Luke’s Gospel account. Luke was man of immense intellect, an historian, and a passionate pursuer of Truth. This becomes clear as one opens up and explores his introduction; even the manner in which it was written. His usage of the Greek language of his day, his balance in the structure of his writing, and his word choice all demonstrate that Luke intended to provide for his reader a record worthy of trust, both theologically and historically. The doctor was concerned greatly with sharing Christ with orderliness, multiple eye-witness testimonies, and even his personal witness so that Theophilus could be sure of what he had been taught. And in God’s providence, the gentile author providing this account to a gentile audience has left us, a greater gentile audience, with a repository of Truth solidifying our faith, factually, historically, and theologically. Praise God!

Certainty of Our Faith

Theophilus had been taught the Gospel, had believed the Gospel, and now was being given a thorough, written account of the Gospel that his faith might be firmly rooted, concreted, having certainty that what he had believed was legitimate, solid, and trustworthy. Luke’s Gospel account contained several “proofs” that would bring Theophilus, and consequently us, this certainty of faith: Proof from Prophecy, Proof from Miracles, and Proof from Growth.

Proof from Prophecy

When taking Luke/Acts as a continuous unit, as Luke intended, one theologian counted 47 references & allusions to how the life, death, & resurrection of Jesus Christ fulfilled the O.T. Scriptures. Imagine what 47 pieces of written evidence, backed up by eye-witness testimonies, in a courtroom would render; certainly, proof beyond a reasonable doubt. What a comfort to know that the God who said “this” would happen also made it happen and left us the proof of his happenings!

Proof from Miracles

For Luke, the proof was in the pudding. In Acts 2:22, Luke records that God confirmed Jesus identity by the “mighty works and wonders and signs that God did through him in your midst…” The miracles that the people remembered seeing Jesus do was God’s proof that Christ’s message was legitimate. This was Jesus claim as well in Luke 7:18-22 when He confirmed that he was the long-promised and awaited Messiah and the proof of His identity was in the blind seeing, the lame walking, the lepers cleansed, the deaf hearing, the dead living, and the poor receiving the good news, all by His divine hand; and this, too, was a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy concerning the Messiah. The miracles of Christ were proof that the message of Christ was authentic!

Proof from Growth

Even a casual stroll through Luke’s account of the early church, Acts, radiates certainty as the masses were coming to faith in Christ they could not see. At first there were only 120, and then 3000, with more being added daily, and then 5000, followed by rapid expansion of the Word of God regionally (Judea, Galilee, & Samaria) that caused massive spiritual growth across geographical boundaries to such that they could no longer be numbered (Acts 2-12). Finally, as if to place an exclamation point, the missionary journeys of Paul, commissioned by the Holy Spirit, caused explosive multi-continental growth of Christianity fulfilling the prophetic word given by Gamiliel in Acts 5:33-39 “…if [the Gospel of Jesus Christ] is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God.”

The Gospel of Luke is sure faith-builder. It was written as such and intended to be just that for Theophilus and continues to stand as such today! May God increase our faith as we joyfully feast upon “every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)…even the introductions.

The Gospel According to Angels

There is a beautiful and mysterious passage in 1 Peter which gives the indication that the angels of heaven long to look into the gospel of our salvation.

Under the inspiration of the Spirit, the Apostle Peter writes, “It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).

Humans and angels have a lot in common. We’re both created by God; we’re both commanded and sent out by God to perform His will; and we’re both enabled by God to serve His grand redemptive purposes in this world. So then why would angels long to look into the good news preached to us? Because of the one major difference between us and them. It was only for mankind that God would send redemption in the person of His Son Jesus.

To Mary: “He Will Be Called the Son of the Most High”

In Jesus’ birth narratives, we get a glimpse of the gospel from the perspective of angels. The first stop in our journey is the annunciation to Mary, found in Luke 1. The angel Gabriel announces the coming birth to Mary and explains Jesus’ unique identity and mission: “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end…the child to be born will be called holy- the Son of God” (Luke 1:32-33, 35b).

Luke begins his account of the gospel by comparing and contrasting the birth of John the Baptist and the birth of Jesus. Notice in Luke 1:32, Jesus is called, “the Son of the Most High” and “the Son of God” in verse 35. But in verse 76, John the Baptist is called, “the prophet of the Most High.” The angels knew that this Christ was the eternal Son of the Father from before the foundation of the world. This same angel Gabriel was sent to the prophet Daniel half a millenia earlier with the news that this Divine Son of Man would reign from an everlasting kingdom (Daniel 8:16, 7:13-14, 9:21). Now Gabriel’s mind is perhaps being blown as he sees God’s perfect wisdom crafting His plan of redemption with this Baby in the manger. Did God tell the angels what He was doing when He was sending Jesus or did He just tell them to go and proclaim the message? I’m not sure. But they were probably beginning to grasp new complexities of the gospel at various points in redemptive history, leading them to wonder all the more over this all-wise plan and to serve more heartily its Grand Architect and Designer.

To Joseph: “He Will Save His People from Their Sins”

Next, the angels address Joseph. In Matthew 1:18-25 an angel appears to Joseph in a dream, guiding him away from divorcing Mary to wedding her and adopting Jesus as his own so that Jesus could truly be called the Son of David. Since Matthew had just finished his genealogy of Jesus and the reader is left to wonder how Jesus could be the Son of David while not being Joseph’s son. Only if Joseph named and adopted Jesus as his own son would the proper family line and inheritance be traced through Him. This isn’t trivial stuff. If Jesus isn’t the Son of David, God would be a liar and we would have no true Savior.

Then, in verse 21, we read the angel’s stunning words concerning Jesus’ identity: “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” The angel declared that Jesus came to save His people from their sins, not their physical enemies. The air of Judaism at the time was rife with a longing for salvation from the hands of the Romans. Rome had slowly but surely taken over Jerusalem and the Jewish people were feeling the political pressure increase much like they did in Egypt under Pharaoh. They longed for the “prophet like Moses” who would come and set them free from Rome’s oppression and lead them to worship God in the Promised Land after defeating their enemies (Deut. 18:15). But the angel pronounced to Joseph that Jesus came for a much more significant salvation than merely political salvation. Yes Jesus was the “prophet like Moses” who would come, and yes He would defeat His people’s enemies, and yes He would lead them to the promised land to worship God in freedom, but not the way they anticipated. Christ would preach repentance from sin and faith in Himself. Christ would, “disarm the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in the cross” (Colossians 2:15). These enemies were, “the rulers…the authorities…the cosmic powers over this present darkness…the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12). Christ would bring His redeemed people into the promised land of eternal life with Him, where they will forever be free to worship and serve Him.

For us, the angel’s words in Matthew 1:21 relay the precious truth that Jesus did not come to merely make salvation possible, but to fully secure salvation. Jesus did not come to save a faceless mass; He came to save specific people by bearing their specific sins Himself on the cross. This gospel message must have led the angels to wonder at God’s plan. What were the angels thinking when they saw this Messiah on Calvary’s cross crying out, “It is finished”? Was there gasping among their heavenly throng when Jesus said in the garden of Gethsemane that He could, but wouldn’t call down twelve legions of angels? (Matthew 26:53). We could only ponder.      

To the Shepherds: “Good News of Great Joy for All the People”

Finally, once Christ is born, the angels go to the shepherds. Jesus’ birth announcement is made by a chorus of heaven’s angels to a few lowly shepherds in the fields surrounding Bethlehem. It is a stunning contrast seeing this grand and glorious chorus praising God before such a meager and motley crew of first century shepherds. They were the ruffians, the nobody’s, the outcastes who had no place in the pomp and polished courts of nobility. Surely God was making a point to the high and mighty. He who chose small and ruddy David over big and mighty Saul, also chose to send His Son to a peasant family in little Bethlehem over the royal family in mighty Jerusalem. Yet listen to the sheer excitement in the angel’s words as they proclaim, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

The salvation the angels pronounced was one of good news. It was headline news because God was breaking into this world in the Person of His Son. It was good news because God was not breaking into this world to condemn, but to save sinners. It was news of great joy that led the angels to worship because these sinful humans were being shown something they could have never earned in a million lifetimes: divine and astounding grace! It was news for all people, because Israel’s King and Savior was the King of a new Israel, who would make up people from every tribe, tongue, nation, and language.

May we feel the same shocking wonder of Christmas this year as the angels felt that first night when the Son of God was born to save sinful men and women.

Prayer and Reverence

Prayer requires reverence.

Prayer is the heart engaged in loving awe. “To worship is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God, to feed the mind with the truth of God, to purge the imagination by the beauty of God, to open the heart to the love of God, to devote the will to the purpose of God. All this is gathered up in that emotion which most cleanses us from selfishness because it is the most selfless of all emotions – adoration.” William Temple

In Matthew 6:5-13 Jesus teaches his Disciples how to pray, “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward.  But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. And when you pray, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do, for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.”

Let me give some context.

The reason for Jesus’ teaching on prayer was because of inappropriate prayer. Jesus wanted to correct abuses so He provided a model prayer for His disciples. The disciples of Jesus didn’t know how to pray. They say, “Lord, teach us to pray”. The hypocrites that are being referred to would stand up in public, they would draw attention to themselves, and they would seek the attention and praise and adoration of man from their prayers.  An apostate form of Judaism led by religious hypocrites had replaced the true religion, and faith of the Old Testament. Prayer had been reduced to rituals, and vain repetition.  This was all they knew, were recited, heartless, and almost mindless prayers.

And here He shifts and talks about the act of prayer as the Gentiles commonly practiced it.  Jesus denounces the Gentile prayers for their empty phrases and for their empty words, their meaningless words. Hypocrisy was the reason that Jesus’ is teaching on prayer. Jesus denounced the prayers of the “hypocrites”. The text says that these hypocrites pray, “in order to be seen by men”. Hypocrites pray to be noticed and pray to impress. This is the type of prayer that Jesus warns about.

Contrast this with Luke 11, “Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” And he said to them, “When you pray, say: Father, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Give us each day our daily bread, and forgive us our sins, for we ourselves forgive everyone who is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation.”

Notice how Jesus instructs us in the Lords prayer. The very first thing Jesus instructs us to do in Luke 11 is “Father, hallowed be your name” and in Matthew 6 “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.” Prayer is first and foremost recognition of God’s majestic glory and it is an act of submission to that glory. The word “hallow” means sanctify. The Greek word for hallow is Hagiazō. It means to separate or to set apart. Jesus tells us to pray, “Let your name be sanctified.” Sanctify can mean make holy or treat as holy. When God sanctifies us, it means that he makes us holy. But when we sanctify God, it means that we treat him as Holy.

He is to be revered.

 

John Oswalt, a commentator, expands on this, “For Isaiah the announcement of God’s holiness meant that he was in the presence of One distinct from – other than – himself. The function of the threefold holy is the strongest form of the superlative in Hebrew. Its use here indicates that Israel’s God is the most “godly” of all the gods.”

Next in Luke 11 Jesus instructs us to say, “Your kingdom come, and in Matthew 6 he says ‘Your will be done” On earth as it is in heaven.”

Jesus commands us to seek God’s kingdom first rather than seeking food and clothing. In other words, we are to seek to let God be the Ruler and King in our lives now. His kingdom is a present reality wherever he rules as King. So when we pray, “Father, let your kingdom come,” we should mean, “Father, rule in my life. Be my king. When we pray to God we have a kingdom mindset but its not always the right kingdom it’s “My kingdom”, “My life”, and “My wants.” Our prayers need to be “upward” before they can be “outward.”

God is vastly beyond us and above us. He is Majestic and transcendent. The glory of God, the hallowing of His great and wondrous name, is the foundation of all prayers. When you and I cherish the desire for God to be glorified, and God to be honored, we will then ask only for those things, which God will see as the means to that end. Hallowing His name means I have set the Lord always before me. Which means: dear God, before I ever talk about my food, my needs, my sin, my life, know this, I desire your glory to be displayed.

When we focus on praise and adoration it reorders our loves. Because of sin the things we love and identify with take supremacy. The supreme source of our enjoyment and delight is God himself. Do we really know that the culmination of all our joy in God will be attained when his name is hallowed in all the earth? Our sinful hearts lead us to be “spiritually self-sufficient.” We are always bent on being in control. Like it says in Romans 1 we still “suppress the truth.” We do not always “honor him as God or give him thanks to him.” We have “foolish hearts.” Tim Keller is spot on when he comments on our condition saying, “The ultimate reason for our misery, however, is that we do not love God supremely.”

Church, love God supremely, reverently, and fearfully. And find that by doing so, we’ll be drawn into a deeper life of prayer.

Two Keys to Flourishing in the Digital Age

I have an iPhone. I’m sure some of you do too, if you haven’t jumped on the Android train. Either way, life in our current time is different from other generations that have gone before us. Why? The smartphone. It’s whatever you want access to anything on the planet in your pocket. This can be used for great good, or for great wickedness. How we do use our smartphones for God’s glory and the good of others around us?

Tony Reinke has a good answer that you should pause and give a some time to. Here’s his entire post below from the Desiring God blog this past week:

Always connected to the web, always connected to social media, a smartphone with a camera is the most addictive tool of communication ever invented.Packaged with all its potent blessings come the amplification of its curses. Our phones can allow unnecessary habits in the silent spaces of our lives. And our phones can feed the most insidious impulses that live inside of our hearts.We all seem to sense that — for good or bad — our smartphones are changing us, our habits, and our relationships. We all know it. We feel it. We seem to be more productive, and yet we are more distracted. We seem to be more connected, and yet we are more alone. We seem to be more knowledgeable, and yet we are less likely to understand the very purpose of our lives.The more important questions are these: What can be done about it? And do we Christians have anything relevant to say to the perplexing questions facing our digital age?After three years researching and writing my new book on smartphone habits, I say emphatically: Yes!Let me show you the relevance of the Bible for the “never-offline” smartphone generation.

Four Important Questions

First, technology is a gift from God, when we use it for human flourishing. But new technology is merely a collection of new tools we invent and share and use to make things go faster and run more smoothly. Technology makes what we do easier, but it cannot answer our deepest questions.Specifically, technology cannot answer these four questions:

  • Who am I?
  • What am I here for?
  • What am I called to do?
  • And am I succeeding or failing at it?

Technology will not answer these four foundational questions of life.Scripture does.

Luke 10

Luke 10 is a good example of Scripture’s relevance in the “never-offline” culture. The chapter begins with Jesus sending out 72 disciples to preach the gospel. All social media gospel spreading in the digital age really can be traced back to the democratization of the message in this sending moment (Luke 10:1–24). I’ll pick up the story in the next scene, in Luke 10:25, what we call the parable of the Good Samaritan.

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him [Jesus] to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He [Jesus] said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he [the lawyer] answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”

Here we find the two love commands. In two other similar accounts in the Gospels, Jesus himself states the same summary. Here it’s a lawyer. This scheming lawyer fishes for self-justification, and misses the point.Nevertheless, the lawyer is not stupid. He boils down the entire moral will of God into two categories:

  1. Love God with all that you are.
  2. Love others as yourself.

Jesus commends the lawyer’s summary. He’s right.

Love Command One

Here’s the primary love command: Treasure God with everything you are! This is the chief vocation for humans.
We were created to express a heart-soul-strength-mind, holistic embrace of God. Faith is a response to seeing God’s glory and goodness. In the light of his beauty, faith desires nothing on earth more than him and cherishes him above even the most beloved father or mother or son or daughter. Faith joyfully gives all our earthly assets in this life to buy a field that holds the priceless treasure of Christ. Faith considers everything in this life as loss compared to the supreme worth of knowing Christ. That is saving faith. It is seeing and hearing and tasting and touching — holistic metaphors for all the various expression of how faith is treasuring God with all that we are and all that we have (Psalm 34:8; 73:25–26; Matthew 10:37; 13:44; Luke 10:27; 14:33; John 6:35; Philippians 3:8).

In the words of Piper: “Jesus’ demand to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength means that every impulse and every act of every faculty and every capacity should be an expression of treasuring God above all things” (What Jesus Demands, 82).This is our primary vocation — and it’s a lofty one.Now, the lawyer knows that a whole-life embrace of God is the most important thing in the universe. What the lawyer doesn’t see is that this expression of faith is nothing short of a miraculous gift of God’s sovereign grace.

Love Command Two

Here’s the second love command: Love your neighbor as yourself. This is the resulting human vocation, which comes out of the first vocation.Love God.Love others.These are the two pillars of all human flourishing — true in the Old Testament, affirmed in the ministry of Jesus, and no less relevant for digitally savvy Christians today.By affirming these two love commands, Jesus is saying that these are the two load-bearing commands — on them “depend [or hang] all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:40).

So, if you lose the second pillar (to love your neighbor), ethics will collapse and crumble into a heap of pious religious jargon that fails to demonstrate the value of God in service to others. Or, if the first pillar crumbles (to love God), ethics collapses into secular social work that cannot, and will not, give expression to the overflow of God’s all-satisfying beauty.All human flourishing rests on these two pillars.

Who Is My Neighbor?

Next, the text forces us to ask this question in Luke 10:29–37:

But he [the lawyer], desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side.“But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”

The image of a dying man in the street is so relevant today, after the terror attacks in Boston, Paris, and now in London and Russia. Sadly, it has become a universal experience to see pedestrians bleeding out on public streets.Now, the lawyer himself misses the whole point — he’s not searching for justification in a Savior; he’s seeking self-justification in front of the Savior.

The Ultimate Neighbor

This whole episode for the lawyer will make no sense until he sees Jesus inside the story. Those with eyes of faith will see that we are the man in the gutter of sin and desolation. The pressures of the world, the sinfulness of our flesh, and the conniving of the devil have jumped us, knocked us out cold with brass knuckles, and left us in total ruin and death.In the cross, we find Christ as the Greater Levite. Christ is the Ultimate Mercy Giver. Christ is the Ultimate Neighbor. Christ is the Greater Priest who does not stand at a safe distance near the Purell dispenser. He draws near to me to get his hands dirty and to shed his own blood for me while I am in my most broken place. The One born in a barn because all the hotel rooms were booked is the Savior who makes for you an eternal home in his Father’s house. Don’t miss the echoes of Jesus in this parable.In other words, “you’ll never become a radical neighbor for others until you see that you have been radically neighbored by Christ” (Keller).

Your Neighbor

So, this text answers the question: Who is my neighbor? That phrase, “your neighbor” — appears over 60 times in the Bible, mostly in Leviticus, Deuteronomy, and Proverbs. The stress, as Jesus points out here, is on embodied place-ed-ness.
For the purpose of an illustration, imagine that you and I, who don’t recognize each other, are sitting inside the same Starbucks coffee shop. At that moment, I exist in the room, and you exist in the room. This is where our bodies coincide. At that moment, we become neighbors in a way that we were not neighbors earlier in the day, not because we follow one another on Twitter, but because our physical presence now overlaps in proximity.Embodied place-ed-ness.Sitting as apparent strangers in the same room, we are neighbors. In this moment, we are now responsible to care for one another. If one of us needs medical attention, the other is obligated to offer help, and to not walk away.My point is that neighboring is rooted in space and time. To have a body is to be obligated to others. We have obligations to our parents, perhaps to a spouse, to children, to a local church, to a boss, and to a neighborhood. And in many of these situations — in the home and church — we have gender-specific obligations to one another. To be a creature is to be obligated to others. That’s fundamental to neighboring.But in the digital age, when we lose a sense of our bodies, we quickly find ourselves in isolation from others, and our sense of what it means to be a true neighbor evaporates.The resulting fallout of this isolation is why the Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy, has made it his mantra: “The most prevalent health issue in the country is not cancer or heart disease or obesity. It is isolation.” Social disconnection. Even in those areas that most root us — our marriages and jobs — our culture has taught us the dance of having one foot in and one foot out never quite committed to anything. We like to keep our options open.So, when a beaten neighbor is lying on the metaphorical path of our lives, we are quick to jump over to the sidewalk of escape on the other side of the street. For many of us, that escapism is found in the virtual world of our smartphones.
Never offline, always within reach, we now wield in our hands a magic wand of technological power we have only begun to grasp. But it raises new enigmas, too. Never more connected, we seem to be growing more distant. Never more efficient, we have never been more distracted.

The Main Point

All of these points in Luke 10 link our evolving smartphone habits to the ancient parable of Jesus.Here’s the point:The priest sees the man in the street, but he’s rushing off to God’s temple to dispense his priestly work. He’s clean, pure, unsoiled, and perhaps his shift begins soon — so he absolutely cannot stop to dirty himself with this filthy, bloody, dying guy in the street. The Levite sees the man, too, but he’s apparently running late for his preaching gig. He cannot stop for the same reason: ministry expectations beckon for his faraway attention. You begin to see the problem here rather quickly. Setting your mind on good and noble things, like remote ministry possibilities, can eventually callous you to the flesh and blood needs around you.Giving over your attention to virtual possibilities, even finding an important role online, can blind you to the gospel needs lying at your feet.If that is not a prophetic warning for Christians in the digital age, I don’t know what is.

Good or Essential?

Jesus clearly wants the lawyer to see the sin of his own neighbor-neglect and repent. In this parable we see the sin of our smartphone abuse, the sin of our hyperconnectivity to the virtual world — even in performing good ministry online. We so often are tempted to withhold mercy from those around us — our families, our roommates, our colleagues, our classmates, our church members, and yes, our neighbors.Neighboring, defined by Jesus, puts great stress on how our bodies root us in a particular place, as both gift-getters (receiving mercy) and gift-givers(offering mercy).Radical neighboring is embodied neighboring. Face-to-face. Real needs met. And there is no exemption clause because you have five hundred followers online.

Offline Authenticity

Taken together, Luke 10 says to all of God’s disciples: Yes, like the 72 sent out, go into the digital world as far as your online influence will spread, and proclaim the good news of Christ — but — don’t get so wrapped up in those opportunities that you forget your essential vocations: (1) to cultivate a genuine love of God above everything, and (2) to care for the needs you see immediately around you.
To put it another way, you can fake online authenticity for a while, but not forever. It will catch up to you. Our authenticity offline is always the basis for our authenticity online.So, if God has called and equipped you to be a Twitter sage, or a hip-hop artist, or an Instagram evangelist, or a podcaster, or a writer, or a social media social activist, or a digital creator of any type, you must take breaks from the scuttle of those ministry expectations — those expectations out in the remoteness of the virtual world — in order to reconnect with the ultimate purpose on this planet that grounds all our flourishing: To be embodied children of God, feeding our faith on the truth of God, cherishing him with our entire being, and then, out of our abundance, serving our neighbors.

Why ‘The Publican?’

If you say or read our name too quickly you may mistake us for a political party or a politically based blog. However, this could not be further from the truth.

The Publicans represents the statement of who we are in relation to the Lord who saved us. In Luke 18:9-14 we find a parable written to those who trusted in their own goodness and righteousness. Jesus proceeded to tell these prideful people that it was the Publican (the sinful tax collector) who was justified by faith rather than the Pharisee (the seemingly proper, collected, squeaky clean religious man). Why is this? Because while the Pharisee was publicly boasting of his own goodness the Publican shows us the definition of godly humility and repentance by not even being able to lift his head to heaven but rather beating on his chest while crying out ‘Lord, be merciful to me a sinner!’

So with this in mind we give you The Publicans: a group of believers dedicated to the reformed faith and the importance Christ’s work on our behalf. If it weren’t for the righteousness of Christ we would have no hope nor plea. Our goal is to serve the community of Christ by providing helpful blog posts, resources, podcasts, and conferences/retreats.

Our aim is to make much of Christ and His glory for we must decrease that he may increase. No words better sum up our thoughts on the matter better than Thomas Raffles Hymn: Lord, Like the Publican I Stand.

Lord, like the publican I stand,
And lift my heart to Thee;
Thy pardoning grace, O God, command,
Be merciful to me.

I smite upon my anxious breast,
Overwhelmed with agony;
O’ save my soul by sin oppressed,
Be merciful to me.

My guilt, my shame, I all confess,
I have no hope nor plea
But Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
Be merciful to me.

Here at Thy cross I still would wait,
Nor from its shelter flee,
But Thou, O God, in mercy great,
Art merciful to me.

(Thomas Raffles, 1831)

To Fear or Not to Fear? That is the Question

1600x1200Luke 12:4-7 says, “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

At first glance this passage seems to be nothing more than a contradiction.  See it?  Jesus tells us both to fear God and to not fear God.  So what are we to do?  Do we fear God?  Or do we not fear God?  That is the question, and interestingly enough that is also the answer.

Usually we don’t know things very well when we only delve in with a first glance, such is the case with this text in Luke.  Luke is not seeking to portray Jesus as a schizophrenic wacko calling us to fear God (12:4-5) and not fear God (12:6-7).  Rather Luke is seeking to portray what we so often experience in our Christian lives: a paradox.

We must fear God.  After all, God is greater than Satan.  Satan can only kill you, that’s all he can do.  Sure a statement like that is strange, but for the Christian it is not death to die.  The end of our physical lives is not the end of us.  We are immortal beings with souls that will live forever either in hell or in heaven.  Satan can only kill us physically, we are not to fear him.  We are to fear God who can not only kill the body but then send the soul into hell as well.  God is supremely more powerful than Satan and this passage shows that.  Therefore the Christian life is to be a life where we fear God, worshiping Him in awe, treating Him with reverence and with the utmost of respect.  He is God and there is no one like Him and there is no god but Him.

Fearing God like this, leads us to a kind of ‘not fear’ as well.  When we recognize God’s supreme majesty a right fear and reverence ought to rise in our hearts, and once that reverent fear rises in us it produces a right view of God.  A right view God is that God is not only transcendent and majestic but that He is near and immanent as well.  God tells us as much here in this text.  He knows us and counts as more valuable the many sparrows.

This intimate knowing coupled with majestic power produces a ‘fearful rest’ in the heart of all believers.  There is no god but God.  That God, the only God, knows me better than I know myself, and has still chosen to draw me to Himself through His Son.  Therefore I will worship Him with a white-hot, delighted, fearful reverence.

These are not oxy-morons when described in relation to the Christian life – it is a beautiful paradox.  We fear God and love Him.

Render to Caesar’s What is Caesar’s

Luke 20:22-26:

One day, as Jesus was teaching the people in the temple and preaching the gospel, the chief priests and the scribes with the elders came up and said to him, “Is it lawful for us to give tribute to Caesar, or not?”

But he perceived their craftiness, and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?”

They said, “Caesar’s.”

He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.

D. A. Carson, Christ and Culture Revisited, p. 57:

When Jesus asks the question, “whose image is this? And whose inscription?” biblically informed people will remember that all human beings have been made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26).

Moreover, his people have the “inscription” of God’s law written on them (cf. Exodus 13:9; Proverbs 7:3; Isaiah 44:5; Jeremiah 31:33).

If we give back to God what has his image on it, we must all give ourselves to him.

Far from privatizing God’s claim, that is, the claim of religion, Jesus’ famous utterance means that God always trumps Caesar. We may be obligated to pay taxes to Cesar, but we owe everything, our very being, to God. [Quoting David T. Ball:] “Whatever civil obligations Jesus followers might have, they must be understood within the context of their responsibilities to God, for their duty to God to claims their whole selves.”

Gospel Coalition Conference Messages Available Online

overview-bannerA few months back the Gospel Coalition held its Annual conference.  A few weeks ago, they put up all the messages online, on their website, for free.  There is a ton of good stuff to take away from this gathering, one that many of us would do well to lean into and see what God has for us.  Click on the picture above or on this link to see the messages.  Enjoy!

Don’t Take This the Wrong Way

Luke 18:9-14 says, “And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; and I pay tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

There is one way to take this message wrongly: Don’t hear me saying that holy living, and Christian disciplines like prayer, fasting, bible reading and memorization, purity, tithing, etc. (things the first guy took part in) have no place in our lives.  Don’t hear a message like this and then pray, thinking you’re in the shoes of the tax collector, “Thank you God that I am not like that religious person!”  Do you see that that is just the same as the religious person?!  We don’t do these things so that God would bless us, love us, or accept us!  Rather, we do Christian disciplines because in Jesus we have been blessed, we have been loved, and we have been accepted!  Christianity is not a “you have do this or that in order to be accepted by God” type of faith, it’s “God has blessed me, loved me, and accepted me and I now it is the greatest pleasure in my life to live a life that is pleasing to this God who loved me and gave Himself for me!”  It is not “look at the long list of religious things that I have done”, it’s simply pointing at Jesus and saying, “I’m with Him!”  A soul that says that yearns to do those disciplines regularly.

The radical, sold out life that Jesus calls all people to does not look like the greatness we learn from this world.  Rather, it looks like a meek, humble, sinful person coming to the end of themselves, and at that end, when you realize your bankrupt of all goodness or righteousness, you embrace Jesus as your everything.

That’s what the radical life looks like.  Coming to the gospel, and living under the gospel for your whole life.

Just like the hymn says, “Nothing in my hands I bring – only to the cross I cling!”  May God bring us all to that point where we can cheerfully and joyfully, and happily confess that apart from Christ we have no merit at all.

The Publican Pleased God? YES!

Luke 18:9-14, “And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; and I pay tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Now to the tax collector.  In Jesus’ day, the average tax collector was nothing less than an extortionist, who robbed people of their livelihood.  They not only were traitors to their own people by being employed by the Jewish enemy – Rome – these people would take Jewish money and give it to Rome!  And to make matters worse, most tax collectors were filthy rich because they took more money than they needed from people, and kept it for themselves.  These people today would probably be included with the likes of those who sell drugs to children, pimps and swingers, and those leading, using, and trading in the sex trafficking industry.  These are not good people, and everyone knew it.  It wasn’t a secret that these tax collectors were frauds!  And for one of them to walk into the temple like this guy did not only never happened, it would simply be astonishing!

This guy’s prayer was different.  He came in, couldn’t even lift his head to heaven or stand up, but bowed down, probably crouched in the corner saying, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”  He knew who he was, he knew he was fraud, and that he had stolen more than he could count from innocent people.  He knew that he was a wretched person, more wicked than he could ever imagine.  He knew that he had sold out to Rome and was bankrupt morally.  What’s crazy about this, is that after he prays, he received mercy and was made right with God.  You see verse 13-14?  “But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was unwilling to even lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other…” He was justified?  He was saved?  Yes.

There are two phrases here that I want to pause on in this passage:

a) Justified: the text clearly says that the tax collector went home “justified.”  What does that word mean?  Justified in the Bible is used as a legal term, so when one is said to be justified it means that he or she is declared righteous is God’s sight.  This is what happened to the tax collector, he came to God at the end of himself and was sent home justified.  2 Cor. 5:21 speaks about this when it says, “God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Jesus.”  This is what people throughout history have called “the great exchange.”  When you come to Jesus by faith, admitting your own sin and shame, and trusting in Him for salvation you will experience God taking away your condemnation, guilt, and shame, and will see God giving you the righteousness of Jesus.  It’s as if all our evil deeds were written in a book, and upon salvation, we see God erase all our evil deeds in that book and fill our book with all of Jesus’ perfect deeds.  God now counts Jesus’ good works – Jesus’ righteousness – as our own.

So here me: we are saved by works, but it’s not our works that save us.  It’s Jesus’ works that save us.

b) “…rather than the other.”  This phrase ought to scare the hell out of you.  You see, to Jesus’ audience, no one was better than a Pharisee and no one was worse than a tax collector, this would have simply been astonishing.  Jesus is saying that the one who everyone thought was close to God was not, and the one who no one had a hope in the world was.  This again shows that the way of the kingdom of God is the opposite of the way of the world!  You see how parable ends?  18:14 says, “…for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  True greatness is not self-elevation at others expense, it’s coming to the end of ourselves and trusting in the works of someone else!  The one who looked religious in all aspects of his life was not right with God, rather the one who was wicked, and owned up to it crying “God be merciful to me a sinner (!) was saved!”  I said that this phrase should scare you because after reading this parable we Christians have to ask ourselves one question: which person do I resemble the most?

I think 99% of us would have to say the Pharisee.  You see, you and I are too good at playing the part, putting the mask on, and acting like we got it all together, when deep down we know that we are just as bankrupt as that tax collector.  We all think that we are better than certain people, so the question is not do you think of others as under you, it’s who do you think of as under you?

Don’t come under the judgment of God, take care that you come to God like the Publican, the tax collector, lest in coming like the Pharisee, you find judgment from God rather than salvation.

Finding Judgment Not Mercy from God

Luke 18:9-14 says, “And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; and I pay tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

When we have and/or resemble the attitude of this pompous Pharisee, Jesus is offended by this attitude.  Jesus hates when we, as Christians, say or think that in order to be a Christian, one has to look like this, or dress like this, or fit into this kind of box, or not have any of this or that on your body, or vote like this, or act like this in public, etc., etc., etc., etc.  Clearly there is a fine line here that we all must walk and walk well.  As Christians we must seek to obey God’s Word and yet seek to be willing enough to know the difference between “truth to be obeyed” and “truth to be applied.”  When it comes down to it, the Bible does not address all of life, but it does give principles that do apply to all of life.  This necessarily means that the Bible allows for some grey to be involved in the Christian life, and that’s ok.

This attitude the Pharisee had, and his so-called righteousness was really unrighteousness.  Look back at his prayer.  He says “God” once, and then says “I” five times, boasting about how squeaky clean and morally upright he is.  This isn’t a prayer, it’s a boast!  It seems that to this guy, God ought to be impressed with him.  How many of us do this?  (Quick hint – all of us)

The harsh reality here for us in this example, is that when we come to God like this, or have these thoughts within us, we don’t find mercy from God, we find judgment.

Jesus is Offended at You

Luke 18:9-14 says:

“And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.  The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; and I pay tithes of all that I get.’  But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’  I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.” 

In the first verse of this parable, Luke sets the stage, and tells us that Jesus is talking to some people who thought they were righteous and viewed others as lower than themselves.  Then Jesus talks, says that two men went into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee, and the other a tax collector (a Publican).  Jesus then says something completely crazy and really ridiculous.  But if we’re to understand this parable’s crazy ridiculousness, we must view the parable from Jesus’ culture and context rather than our culture and context.

You see, when we read that there was a Pharisee and a tax collector here, our minds immediately go to one place: the Pharisee is the bad guy and the tax collector is the good guy.  Why?  That’s what our world has been taught.  This was not what Jesus’ world would have felt or believed after reading or hearing this parable.  They would have been shocked out of their shoes, they would have been astonished because Pharisee’s in their day were the spiritual superstars.  If one of them showed up in a church today the people would be so impressed with his “godliness” that within a few weeks that they’d probably make him an elder or a deacon, they might even want him to be the pastor after a few months.  Everything about the Pharisee’s life looked perfect, his faith would be robust, his singing would be loud and confident, his praying would be full of knowledge and eloquent, his family would look neat and in order, his dress would be proper and put-together…from the outside looking in it would look like this guy is the real thing, the Leader among leaders, the Christian among Christians, and the Saint among saints.

We can see this in the text, look in verses 11-12, “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.  I fast twice a week; and I pay tithes of all that I get.”  I think when we see the Pharisee say this we say to ourselves, “Man I can’t believe this guy would say something like that!”  But, I think we are more like this Pharisee than we dare to admit.

Some of you think you’re more righteous than others because of a cause you stand behind – “I can’t believe that family is not being more “green.”  Don’t they know that they should be trying to reduce their carbon footprint like we are?”  Others of you think you’re more righteous than others because when you look in the mirror you think, “God must love me more than other people, I’m an amazing specimen!”  Some of you think you’re more righteous than others because when you go to work you think, “Man, its good thing I’m here in this office, because all my co-workers are stupid!  Who knows what would happen to this company if I weren’t here!”  Some of you more sneaky individuals out there think you’re more righteous than others because of your faith.  “I’m a better Christian than that guy, I mean really, he doesn’t even know where to find the book of Jeremiah in his Bible?  He’s certainly not on my level spiritually.”  Or, “I tithe and give more money than anyone in this room!”  Or, “I’ve been serving with the youth group and children’s ministry longer than some of these people have even been Christians!”  Or, “Look at my ministry, it’s four times bigger than this guy down the road.  I must be a better pastor!”  Or, “Is that really the sin you struggle with?  I beat that a long time ago.  Man, you must really be young in your faith.”

We obviously don’t say these things out loud, but you know that we all think them.

Hear me now, Jesus is offended by this attitude.

My Happy Boast of Being Morally Bankrupt

All this week, I’m going to focus on the passage that has meant so much to me of late, and it just so happens to be the passage that this blog is based on. It’s from Luke 18 and it has had a profound impact on me because it simply turns world-views upside down for the better and provides a ballast of a foundation for all Christian living.

Growing up in this culture as a young sports fan it did not take long to learn what “greatness” really was. I learned that greatness was being the champion, standing over your defeated foe, basking in victory! I learned that greatness was hitting a home run in game seven of the World Series when the bases are loaded to win it all! I learned that greatness was throwing or catching a touchdown in the last seconds of the Super Bowl to defeat that team that no one thought could be beaten! But when I became a Christian God began to show me that His ways are not the ways of this world, and that greatness did not come in worldly pomp and circumstance, but in humility. Luke 18:9-14 presents such a case, and shows us the difference between true greatness and foolish unrighteousness.

Luke 18:9-14 says:

“And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; and I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Join me the rest of this week to explore what I think God has for us in this text.