March 5 – Devotion Sharing (Luke 15)

Submitted by Alice R. from Gracepoint Minneapolis Church

Luke 15:1-10
· “Sinners” versus Pharisees
v.1 Now the tax collectors and “sinners” were all gathering around to hear him.
This verse really jumped out this morning. The fact that all these tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around Jesus to listen to him is really fascinating. There was something about Jesus that really attracted them to him, to want to move towards him even though they were the outcasts, they were looked down upon by society, etc. Something about Jesus caused them to want to hear and be near Jesus. That makes me think again about what kind of presence he was among them. Someone surely with authority and miraculous powers, but at the same time, they felt somewhat safe with him, genuine and authentic, and perhaps having heard about and saw that he was always surrounded by people, and see how he is always moving towards people, and hearing about how he would forgive people’s sins and heal them–that caused them to want to move towards him too, because ultimately they knew their own true condition. And they could genuinely enjoy being in his presence.

As for the Pharisees, because they were so self-deceived and had such a false elevated view of themselves, they did not appreciate the nearness of Jesus. They instead criticized him as they were always muttering under their breaths about all the ways Jesus was a less than ideal religious figure. They had no need to “gather around” Jesus because ultimately they did not see their need, they were too proud, too self-righteous and in the end, they tragically miss out being with Jesus, miss out on being forgiven by him, miss out on in being loved my him.

The times I seek to be nearer to Jesus than perhaps other times is when I am in that down and out state, when I am keenly aware of my faults, my sins due to some mess-up, due to some way I hurt someone, failed to love someone, unkind with my words, or times when I feel helpless, vulnerable, uncertain. These are times Jesus actually welcomes me and wants me to draw nearer to him as well because he wants me to be honest about it, to release these things to him, receive forgiveness and be brought to a restored fellowship with him. And I take warning from the Pharisees that any time I think I am doing “okay” or that I don’t quite feel the need to be near to Jesus, is a sign that I need to pause and examine my life again, and to not avoid wanting to be in that humbling state of feeling “poor in spirit” but rather see that as a chance for me to be near Jesus again.

· Until he finds it
For that one lost sheep, for that one lost coin that is so precious, the shepherd and the woman will stop everything and will do whatever it takes to find the lost sheep, the lost coin… That kind of all out search–that has ALWAYS been the heart of God. There is no hesitation or calculations about what to do when someone or something precious is lost. One drops everything he or she is doing and will do whatever it takes to go find it UNTIL it is found. This is the kind of love that Jesus has demonstrated for me on the cross, and through his people over the years, and this is the kind of love I am called to live out each day.

So with each person God has entrusted under my care, God asks me to be faithful, to love thoroughly, to persist and persevere in prayers–UNTIL that person is found, UNTIL that person is broken, UNTIL that person repents, UNTIL that person has a spiritual break through. This is what covenantal love looks like. And as I am committed to the people God has brought in my life and entrusted me with, I am called to ceaselessly continue to labor and persist in love, just as I have been loved.

·Joy, celebration
What brings true joy and what is truly worth celebrating according to Jesus? It is when a person is found by him, when a person comes to truly repent before Him and is restored in his relationship with Him. This passage reminds me again what is the most important thing before God. What God finds most joyful and even worth celebrating is when a person who was far from him, lost and isolated from God because of their sinfulness and rebellion is restored to Him. And even in my daily life, what brings God joy is my genuine repentance. But so often I see in myself and in others how we have the wrong perspective. We think what is important is that we can some how avoid making a mistake and try to avoid failing and try to be “okay” and think that perhaps that is what Christian life is about or would bring joy or be approving to God. I’ve seen in my life and in others, how we have a mentality of wanting to avoid a situation of having to repent. However, the God who is willing to welcome and eat with “tax collectors and sinners” is a God who does not demand that we have our lives all in order and will never fall again. God desires most that I don’t try to put up a front that I am better than who I really am; that I come to Him in honest confession that I am nothing more than a broken and messed up sinner, still full of flaws, still struggling with the same old sins, and that I desperately need His mercy on me.

The fact that God delights in and waits for my repentance is still something that I marvel at and still learning to appreciate more and more. But the more I reflect upon this truth, the more I come to also appreciate how relational God really is, and how important it is that I am aware of my sinfulness, how it really grieves God, and my need to be restored in my fellowship with Him daily.

PERSONAL PRAYER
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for the reminder today that what you value most from me is my genuine repentance, that I might be properly restored in my fellowship with you. Forgive me for the times that I fail to understand this and think that how I need to live my life is to try to avoid failure and try to be “better” on my own. Throughout these Luke passages, you have been really making it clear for me that what you desire most from me is that I relate to you in truth and that I am relating to you in an authentic way every single day. I want to commit to living each day facing the truth about myself, to confess my sins and relate with you authentically. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Submitted by Timothy R. from Gracepoint Minneapolis Church
Luke 15:1-2
• Contrast how the tax collector and “sinners” approached Jesus with how the Pharisees approached Jesus. What does this reveal about their attitude toward sinners and their view of themselves?
The tax collectors and sinners approached Jesus out of their desire “to hear him.” They were all gathering around him to listen to Jesus’ teachings. The fact that these notorious tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to listen to Jesus’ teachings was amazing! These were the very people who would have never have stepped foot in a synagogue or the temple. It was a reason for celebration and rejoicing! In their actions, they showed that they recognized that something was missing in their lives…they had the humility to recognize that Jesus had something to offer them.

In stark contrast were the Pharisees and teachers of the law. They too were there to listen to Jesus’ teachings but clearly with different motivations. They couldn’t rejoice at the amazing fact that tax collectors and sinners were flocking to Jesus to hear his teachings. Instead of praising God for this, they judged and criticized Jesus for welcoming them.

Their actions reveal that they saw a great distinction between these tax collectors/“sinners” and themselves. Furthermore, their actions also reveal their wrong view of God. They grossly underestimated God’s holiness. It’s as if they thought that God had some arbitrary expectation of righteousness and said to people, “If you’re above this line then I will look upon you with favor but if you fall below the line then I’ll condemn you.” Rather than viewing God as someone who was perfectly holy and therefore who could never be satisfied with any level of tainted righteousness that we can achieve, they thought that God would somehow be impressed by their righteousness.

If they only thought about themselves more honestly, they might have concluded: “Wait a minute. Here we are looking down on these tax collectors and sinners because we think holy God looks down upon them. But what about us? Wouldn’t the same holy God look down on us for our many sins that we are guilty of?” Somehow they didn’t think that far. Their actions and judgmental words reveal how utterly blind they were to their own sins.

• How does my view of myself affect how I will approach Jesus?
My view of myself will directly affect how I approach Jesus. My view of myself determines my attitude as I approach Jesus in prayer, in DT, in Bible reading, and listening to messages.

If I have the same view of myself as the tax collectors and “sinners”, then I will be teachable before God’s Word. I won’t be making excuses or looking for grounds to justify myself for my sins. I will allow God’s word to convict me of specific sins that I need to repent of. I will allow Jesus to show me areas in my life where I need to change.

But if my view of myself is like that of the Pharisees, then even when I approach Jesus by spending time reading his word, it won’t help me. With that view of myself, I will approach Jesus with an un-teachable heart. It will be hard for God to convict me with His word because I will always be making excuses for my behavior and my sins. It will be so tragic because in a sense I can “be there,” hearing Jesus’ words through DT/listening to message, but it will do me little good.

Honestly, my view of myself swings back and forth between viewing myself as a tax collector/sinner and being a Pharisee. Sometimes, it’s so clear what a wretched sinner I am. In such moments, there is little making of excuses before God’s word. And I find myself being lot more teachable and humble before God’s word. At other times, I feel like a Pharisee. I can be self-righteous; I can think that I am better than others. I can be so proud and I can forget how the most dominant truth about me is that I am a wretched sinner before holy God.

This is a sober warning that it’s not good enough that I am simply doing my DT’s regularly or that I am listening to messages regularly. If I don’t approach those times with the proper attitude, then it will do me little good. Every time I approach God’s Word, be it for DT, be it for listening to a message, I need to still my heart before God, to pray and ask God to give me a humble and teachable heart before him.

Luke 15:3-10
• What are two ways you can see the value of the lost items in these parables?
The two ways that I see the value of the lost items is in the fact the owner is willing to go on an all out search effort to fine the missing item and in the level of rejoicing/celebration that happens once it’s found. In both parables, Jesus says that the owner will search until the owner finds it (v.5, v.8). It’s unthinkable that the shepherd or this woman would give up the search until they find it. No matter how difficult, no matter how long, no matter how discouraging, it is not an option for these two owners to stop searching. This shepherd was not going to give up until he finds the sheep and it comes back safely. It is the same with the woman. Neither one says, “Oh well, I tried my best and there’s nothing more I can do. I’ll quit searching now.” Such perseverance reveals how valued and how loved the lost items were.

• What is God’s view of me?
In light of these parables, I see that this is how much God loves and values me. For as I think about my life, I can say with confidence that God did not give up on me, and that indeed God searched for me “until he found me.”
I look on my years growing up, and I gave God many good reasons to give up searching for me. I grew up as a church-goer who went to church, purely out of habit and not much more. To make matters worse, I was as self-righteous as the Pharisees and blind to my sins as the Pharisees. God could have easily said of me: “That guy Timothy is just not interested. Clearly he’s just into his idol of academics and success. He’s so proud, so self-righteous, so smug. It’s not worth going after him. He’s a lost cause.” Even though all of that would have been true of me, God never gave up on me. And somehow through God’s persevering love for me, I became a Christian in my sophomore year in college. And it’s humbling and astounding to me to picture the celebration in heaven that must have occurred when I finally surrendered my life to Christ.

• How should this parable change my view of myself and others?
Now as recipient of this kind of persevering love, I need to now love others with that same kind of tireless love. In appreciation of the fact that God never gave up searching for me, “until he found me,” I am now called to do the same for others. This fact is a huge motivation for me as I am engaged in ministry. For ministry at times can be discouraging. Reality is that not everyone we try to share the gospel with responds readily. There are so many distractions and so many hindrances that get in the way of people being able to receive the gospel. I often look back upon my years as a youth and as a freshman. And I often think about how God didn’t give up searching for me during those years. I often think about how God used various people in my life, my youth teachers and youth pastors, my spiritual leaders in college, as his hands and feet to search after me. Reflecting back on my own testimony in this way often gives me huge motivation to keep persevering in ministry. I feel such indebtedness to God and those Christians who never gave up on me. As recipient of that kind of persevering love, how can I give up on others?

PERSONAL PRAYER
Lord I thank you for these precious parables. Whenever my understanding of your love grows fuzzy, whenever I feel like somehow I need to measure up to earn your love, whenever I feel like that I am somehow too lame at life, too inadequate in ministry to be worthy of your love, these parables assure me of how loved I am. These parables assure me that that I am so loved by you that you thought I was worth this kind of unrelenting search. Lord your search for me led you all the way to the cross. Lord, you never gave up on me even when I was worse than the lost sheep and the lost coin. You loved me when I was the Pharisee in this passage, so self-deluded and self-deceived. And even when I shunned you and pushed you away all those years while I was growing up, you pursued after me. Now Lord please use me to search after all those who are lost and need to be found by you. Lord just as you used many precious Christians to search after me, now please use me to search and find others in your name. In Jesus Name I pray, Amen.

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