Here are the DT Packets for February 13-18th, 2012 on Luke 10-12:
Submitted by Jenny C. from Gracepoint Riverside Church
· According to this passage, why is hypocrisy so foolish?
Hypocrisy is foolish because according to v. 2 and 3, everything we say will be disclosed and made known. Even the things we think are concealed, hidden, and said in secret will be exposed, “heard in the daylight” before God.
· How is hypocrisy related to fear of men?
Hypocrisy is saying one thing and doing another – your words and your actions don’t match. This is related to fear of men because when you are conscious of what others think of you, what you do will be influenced by how your behavior impacts your image, your status, your popularity. You end up focusing on and striving after these outwardly things, and doing whatever you can on earning these for yourself. This is why it is possible for people to profess themselves as Christian, yet if their reference group is their friends, they can end up compromising their profession of faith in order to gain acceptance and good standing among that group of friends.
· What is the relationship between fear of “those who kill the body” and fear of the one who “has the power to throw you into hell”?
The relationship is that they are mutually exclusive – as one fear grows, the other diminishes. In other words, you will end up fearing one of these and making that your focus; it’s just a matter of which you eventually fear. If you are fearful of other people (“those who kill the body”), then your focus becomes on protecting yourself, boosting yourself up so that others will not take advantage of you, polishing your image so others will admire you. You will not really think about how your actions matter and are perceived by God; even if you may agree with this outwardly, it won’t have an affect on how you live. Likewise, if you have proper fear of God, (the one who “has the power to throw you into hell”), then you are going to worry less about what other people think of you and focus more about doing what is pleasing to God.
· How is God portrayed in this passage?
God is someone who is intimately familiar with us – he is someone who does not even forget about the birds that are sold for pennies, how much more is he a God who would remember us, whom he calls his children. He is a God who knows even the number of hairs on our head – to this extent, he knows all about the details of our lives, he knows the situations that we face.
· In what ways does fear of men come in conflict with acknowledging God?
Fear of men leads people to not acknowledge God before men and it can lead us to disown Jesus before men. I think how when I am people-driven, it leads me to just care about how I look before others; I don’t want to do anything that makes me look bad, I become afraid of making mistakes; I don’t want to be vulnerable and I end up becoming this shallow, fake person – and ultimately this is not acknowledging God in my life because I live a life without integrity. Living with the fear of men keeps me from the admitting truth about myself – from making the painful confessions that God prompts me to make, from disclosing my weakness, and fear that I will lose something that men give me – whether it’s approval, status, position, or good image. I cannot be an authentic and honest person while being driven by fear of people. In these ways, the fear of men keeps me from acknowledging and living before God.
· In what ways, or before whom, have I not acknowledged God?
One way I have not acknowledged God is by not disclosing vulnerable things about myself. Rather than just admitting that I have an area of weakness, I feel lame about myself as I compare myself with others who do not have the same problem. I want to not make a big deal out of it and try to deal with it myself. Especially in ministry, my default mode is that I would much rather try to do the right thing, not make mistakes, to avoid failure, and to not bring up things I did that would show my lack of discretion or wisdom. In this way, I am living before people, caring what they think of me, wanting to make a good impression, and I fall under the fear of men. The reality, however, is that God sees my heart and he knows the kind of motivation that I have; he sees each deed I do and each thought that I have. In the end, He will be the one who will judge how I have shepherded the people entrusted to me. In view of this, it is foolish to think that somehow I can dodge his gaze and make do on my own. I need to be willing for my weaknesses to be known; this starts by first speaking the plain truth about myself, about my flaws, sins and mistakes. And as I let myself be known to others, this is acknowledging before people that God knows me.
Lord, I confess that often I can be driven by fear of men, what others think of me and how I look before people. I repent of this, knowing that this makes me less conscious of your gaze upon my life. I pray committing to speaking the truth about myself, especially about unpleasant, vulnerable things; and I commit to actively bringing up issues that could incriminate me or expose my weakness. I want to grow in my fear of you so that I do not live merely before people, but before you.
Submitted by Steve K. from Gracepoint Riverside Church
Verse 1 mentions that a ‘crowd of many thousands had gathered’. That must’ve been quite a sight to see. At the center of this massive crowd is none other than Jesus and his 12 disciples. These 12 disciples, who were either unknown obscure fishermen or a hated tax collector, have now become celebrities. As I think about how I’ve felt being on stage in front of hundreds of people, I recall a sense of excitement, but also nervousness and self-consciousness. These disciples were at the center of attention before thousands of people. Becoming such public figures commanding the attention of that many people, I’d imagine that the disciples would’ve felt very conscious about the gaze of so many eyes being upon them. Everything they said or did or didn’t do would be under scrutiny by such a crowd.
Being such public figures I’d also imagine that there’s a strong temptation to have a certain presentable public image at the cost of neglecting dealing with their inner reality. Like they could be serving all the time and perhaps having a “Q&A” with people about Jesus and His teachings when Jesus was preoccupied with healing and personally connecting with other people…they could be doing all that while neglecting sins that are piling up in their hearts.
Perhaps this is the reason why Jesus turned to his disciples and warned them about the ‘yeast of the Pharisees’, because the Pharisees were also well known public figures. Jesus specifically exhorted His disciples to be on ‘guard’ against the hypocritical ways that the Pharisees lived.
Jesus goes on to tell them that whatever is hidden will be revealed. This was probably a timely message for these disciples, who were probably hit with the temptations and struggles of becoming famous public figures. Jesus wants them to make sure that they are not getting caught up trying to ‘look good’ verses actually being good before God, which requires being open and honest about their internal realities of various sins they may be committing in their hearts. Perhaps there’s pride and ego building, which makes them competitive and envious of each other. Perhaps there’s greed for attention or they’re being selfish and irritable. Perhaps there are lustful thoughts they needed to confess and repent of. There are a whole host of sin issues that could be swirling around in the hearts of these disciples, but they may try to ignore all that because they have an image to protect in front of the thousands who are watching them thinking that they are spiritual people made of different stuff. Their fear of the people in the crowd would be a major reason why these disciples would be reluctant to take an honest look at what’s going on in their hearts. Fear of losing people’s approval is a strong driver to conceal their inner struggles and guilt.
I think this is why Jesus urges His disciples in verse 5 to fear God and not men. He reasons with them that they should fear God who has the power to exercise final, eternal judgment on our lives. When we have proper fear of God, then our fear of people will be overcome, so that we can have the courage to live in truth and not be hypocritical people like the Pharisees.
Jesus also gives us encouragement to not be afraid of what others think of us or what ways they may be able to harm us by reminding us that God knows us and cares for us much more than sparrows, which are not forgotten by God.
I think this passage is very relevant for me as a Christian leader, because I too am a public figure in our church. Even in our new church plant, I too experience the pressure and the burden of having many different eyes look to me for spiritual guidance and compassion. Along with this comes the temptation to hide what’s going on in my heart, lest I reveal that I’m actually weak and sinful. When my public image is divorced from my inner reality, then I’m allowing the yeast of the Pharisees infect my life. I will end up becoming a hypocrite as I preach how God cares above all a personal relationship with us, which is based on living in truth. Living in truth, or walking in the light, will inevitably result in a daily confession of sins and a need to repent, because the truth is I’m a sinner through and through. It’s not for a lack of sins that I’m not engaged in daily confession and being desperate to cling to Jesus for mercy and grace. If I remain silent about my sins, it’ll be because I have allowed my fears of people to overcome my fear of God. When that happens, it’s really the beginning of the end. My lack of fear of God causes me to fear all sorts of things that causes me to become dishonest, deceitful and self-centered. I end up walking in darkness when that happens, and I will feel deeply insecure and orphaned. This would be such a tragic end, which I want to steer clear of with all my heart. Not only for my own sake, but for the sake of the Body of Christ.
Lord, I thank you for the strong warning you give me as one of the shepherds of your people.
Lord I pray that I would daily have the courage to live in truth before you as I choose to fear you above all things. May my fear of you cause all the lesser, destructive fears to dissipate and loosen their grip on my soul. May my fear of you bring much wisdom, which I so desperately need to live a good life that honors you. And Lord I pray that I would daily remember how you love me and know me so intimately such that you even know the number of hairs that are on my head. May the knowledge of your intimate, perfect love for me drive out fears that tempt me to be unfaithful towards you and to become more self-absorbed and insecure.
In Jesus Name,
Submitted by John C. from Gracepoint Riverside Church
Jesus tells us one aspect about hypocrisy—it simply doesn’t work. In verses 2 and 3 he says how “there is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known.” The Pharisees were hypocrites. Their outward actions demonstrated that they were pious towards God, but the reality of their hearts, what they were whispering to each other in the dark revealed a much darker reality of pride, selfishness, and power-seeking. Their hearts were exposed for what they were. As we study them in our scriptures, we see a clear picture of who they really were. The effort they put into hiding the ugliness of their hearts was totally futile as Jesus exposed them again and again.
I think one danger in Christian life is hypocrisy. Perhaps it’s not the blatant kind of hypocrisy of words and actions completely mismatching—like going clubbing after Bible Study or something. Rather it’s more subtle and Pharisaic—it’s when the reality of my heart doesn’t match my words and actions. The driving motivation for hypocrisy is image maintenance—I want to portray a certain image about myself, as someone who’s mature, who’s caring, and who’s humble. Hypocrisy enters when there are hidden things in my heart that betray this image such as selfishness or pettiness, but I still want to maintain my image—so I keep these things hidden. The fear of man causes us to engage in deceit and hypocrisy because we can successfully prevent the hidden things of our heart from being exposed to them—or can we? Jesus states plainly that “what you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.” This is certainly true of the Pharisees as history through the Gospels shows, but Jesus is also making a statement about reality. Our hypocrisy will be exposed and made known. There are many things to say about hypocrisy, but one truth is that image maintenance and deceit simply doesn’t work. Not only does God see everything in our hearts, but in one way or another sooner or later, our hypocrisy will be exposed. Things we try to hide just have a way of bubbling up to the surface and coming out through our words or actions. I’ve found this to be true in my life, and it reminds me of how foolish it is to think that I can keep anything hidden.
However, the fact that I can’t successfully hide anything is actually a very liberating thought. I might as well come into the light and let things about me be known. I’m so thankful that in this body of Christ I am surrounded by people whom I trust, who care for me, and before whom I can be frank and honest and before whom I don’t need to posture and maintain any sort of image.
Submitted by Dora W. from Gracepoint Riverside
Since being filled with darkness or light is dependent on our eyes (v.33), what determines the good or bad condition of our eyesight (perception)?
What determines the good or bad condition of our eyesight really comes down to the state of my heart and how aligned it is to God’s word. Throughout my walk with God I have seen the times where I was filled with darkness, when I was full of guilt, shame, pride and insecurity. The truth of the gospel was far from me. These were times when I was trying to deny the truth that I am a sinner and I looked at everything with a perspective of bitterness, cynicism, and lovelessness. And when my eyesight is bad, these were times where I was looking at my life and the world around me through my own warped and self-focused understanding. It’s a pretty vicious cycle.
These were times where I was not turning to God’s word to be my source of light. When my heart is agreement with what the gospel says about me and I am aware of the amazing love and mercy God has bestowed on me, I am able to see the world through the lens of truth. I can see that though I may be going through a particular struggle, I can still count all the ways I have been blessed. I can see that though there may be some difficulties in living a Christian life, there are so many other joys and richness that I can look to and admit that things didn’t have to be this way.
Jesus rebukes the Pharisees with very harsh words. What is it about the Pharisees that Jesus found repugnant?
The Pharisees are shocked that Jesus does not ceremonially clean himself before the meal. What Jesus finds so repugnant about the Pharisees is that they are so focused on the externals of a person and yet are so blind to what is going on the inside. Throughout this entire chapter, we see the Pharisees testing Jesus and criticizing him. However they never once stopped to consider what’s really going on inside of their own hearts. most disturbing thing is this huge discrepancy between the kind of person they want to appear before others as and the wicked, sinful, self-seeking people they are inside.
What aspects of the Pharisees do I find in myself?
One aspect of the Pharisees that I find in myself is when I end up focusing a lot more about how I appear to others and neglect the state of my own heart. I am a person full of insecurity and I often wonder about how those around me perceive me. When I get into these modes of being so people-conscious, I neglect honest self-reflection. I don’t struggle to dig deep to see what is really going on in there, because the reality is that I know I’m not going to like what I find. While I may be running around doing many things in the name of God, on the inside my heart can be far from God. One way this can manifest itself is when I want to appear as someone who is sacrificial with her time, but on the inside I cling onto my time as my own to rest or rather to indulge in laziness. Another way is when I want to appear as someone who loves others but at the same time I find myself holding back on completely loving people out of fear of being hurt and rejected. Like the Pharisees I end up caring a lot more about protecting and promoting myself than I do about those in need around me.
I want to be thought of by others as loving, sacrificial, mature, but the reality is that these things only come out as a result of how much I have internalized what the bible says about me as my truth. It is only in light of who I am and who God that I am humbled and there is room in my life for these qualities to grow. However, when this truth gets blurred or looses its sweetness—that is when this pharisaic discrepancy begins to widen. It is during these times that I really need to stop and confront the discrepancy between the me I am trying to present to others to gain their approval and the real me that is full of self-focus, selfishness, fears and insecurity. I need to go back to that first love when the wicked person I am inside was so clear and there was no pretense in terms of who I was before God and others.
What issue does Jesus address by asking, “Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also?”
While the biggest issue that Pharisees were focused on was how they appeared on the outside, the issue that Jesus is addressing is greed and wickedness that is inside the hearts of Pharisees. They cared more about how they appeared to others than what their greed was doing to the poor in their lives.
What are things that God cares about that I am ignoring?
As I I get older I become more aware of all the things that God cares about that I end up ignoring when I focus more on myself and on my appearance before others. One way I see this is when in conversations, I am focused on reading into the signs of how much a person is feeling warm towards me than actually listening to everything she is saying to me. I know there are many ways I can pick up on the burdens and concerns of others by really listening to them. But when I am wrapped up in how liked I am, my attention goes to myself.
On a greater scale, when I am focused more on how I appear before others and my mind is full of these self-centered thoughts, there is much less room to think about the people and concerns going on around me. Just last week at prayer meeting, we prayed for the people who are suffering because of the loss of a loved on or a disease in the family. These were concerns that I have known about, but how often do I find myself thinking about these people and praying for them outside of prayer meeting? When I take an honest look at myself, I know that my daily thoughts often center on myself. In doing so I miss out on a chance to help share their burdens, to pray for and encourage them.
And as I focus on myself, I also ignore what God ultimately wants to do to me. He doesn’t want me to look like a person that has life all together before other people. He wants to grow me into a person of love—a person who express concern, cry out in prayer, and be sacrificial. This is what God cares about when it comes to my life—the inside and not the out.
Why couldn’t the Pharisees and teachers of the law accept Jesus’ rightful criticism about their hypocrisy, even though they were highly religious people?
It was ultimately because they were proud. Though they were highly religious people, their religiousness wasn’t driven by a love of God, but rather out of a desire to show how great they were to the world. They didn’t want to admit to themselves and others that they have been wrong.
Submitted by Michelle Y. from Gracepoint Riverside
• Lamp, good eyes, bad eyes
Our eyes are the lamp of our body and depending on what our eyes are focused on, we are either filled with light or darkness. For example, if we choose to be saturated with media all day long, then our eyes will be filled with all the wrong images, and we would be fed all the wrong messages of this world. There will be darkness in our body because we will buy into lies such as that our value and worth is dependent on our appearance and looks, that a reckless life without any commitments is most freeing life, that sexual promiscuity and the hook up culture is the norm, etc. When our mind is filled with all these lies, there is no room for the Word of God, and there is no hope for us to respond to God’s promptings. On the other hand, if we have good eyes that take in the Word of God and choose to meditate on it, we have bodies full of light that can respond to God and his teachings.
I have experienced this truth of good eyes vs. bad eyes in my own lives. There are times when my eyes are bad, and I can zoom in on all the things that I lack and don’t have in life. I can complain about being too busy and having too many things to do, lacking sleep, not having a job, not being appreciated by others, grumbling about difficulties in life, etc. When my eyes are bad like this, I am filled with darkness, and I am quick to complain and grow bitter and resentful about this Christian life that God has given me. I lose a sense of joy and gratitude in doing ministry and everything becomes drudgery. The Word of God has no place in my life during times like this, and I start growing easily irritated and annoyed with people around me. However, when my eyes are good, and I can have that proper perspective that I am undeserving of all the good blessings that I do have in life–my salvation, eternal life, this church and the fellowship I experience with other believers, the fact that I can run this race with like minded peers and leaders, the privilege to do ministry here at UCR—then there is light in me again. I can respond to the Word of God and hear God speak to me, I can experience fellowship with others again and there is a sense of joy and happiness in doing ministry.
Our eyes then are very powerful and what we choose to focus on has a direct impact on whether we will be filled with light or darkness. With media being so prevalent in today’s society, I have to be very careful what my eyes take in and focus on. Also, I need to always have an accurate perception of reality and not just look at it through the lens of what I lack, but instead be able to see all the things that I do have so that I can give proper thanks and gratitude to God.
• Outside, inside
The Pharisees were experts of the law who were so focused on just keeping the law that they entirely missed the heart of God. They criticize Jesus for not washing his hands before eating and are so concerned with the exterior and appearing clean and righteous to others. Jesus, however, rebukes them and tells them it is not the outside that makes them unclean, but rather what comes out of their hearts. Mark 7:21-23 reads, 21 For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, 22 greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’ ” The Pharisees entirely missed this point and were just consumed with keeping their outside clean so that they could impress others, but they completely ignored the evil desires of their hearts which is what God really looks at.
This is a warning for me because I need to be careful to not get consumed by just the exterior and doing all the right things. From the outside, I can appear to be very righteous and clean because so much of my life centers around godly activities. However, I can’t fool myself and need to always look at what is going on in my heart and deal with all the ugly sins there. I need to go through work of daily searching my heart and confessing sins of selfishness, laziness, failure to love or care for someone, pride, ingratitude, irritation, being judgmental towards others etc. I confess that at times I can find myself being like these Pharisees and just focus on my exterior and not deal with the reality of my sins that others don’t see. However, it is during these times that I find myself far from God and then things become like mere tasks. I am thankful for prayer meetings when I have that time to reflect and confess the ugly sins of my heart and make things right with God again. And, as I go through the process of confessing the shameful and ugly truths about myself, I can reconnect with God again and experience that closeness and dependency on Him as I experience his forgiveness and restoration. Especially as I get older, I want to commit to keep going through hard work of dealing with what is going on inside of my heart because only in this truth I find the greatest joy and freedom.
Submitted by Hannah Y. from Gracepoint Riverside Church
· Interpretation of God’s activity; Pride; spiritual responsiveness
As Jesus is doing his ministry and driving out demons, it is interesting that it says that the crowd was amazed but some of them questioned Jesus and had this sinister view of him even coming up with their own theory of how he was driving the demons out, and still others tested Jesus and asked for a sign. I thought about how this is so true to life. Often I find that when God is working in undeniable ways, there are some who put a negative bend on it and stubbornly refuse to believe. They discount it as a coincidence, or they place ill-motive on God and His people. They are cynical and want to explain it away according to their own theories that may seem so sophisticated and convincing. I have seen others just discounting God’s work as a one time freak of nature and say that they can not believe unless this or that happens. They say, If God works in X way, then I will believe.
Ultimately I think it comes down to pride and this insistence that God work the way I want him to and unless that happens I will come up with whatever excuse or story to dismiss it. The people who came up with the story of Jesus being the prince of demons, just didn’t want to believe that Jesus actually had power from God. Perhaps they are like the people today who spend their whole lives in academic and scholarly work, trying to explain away God’s work with different theories and or explanations. Or people who might even experience God working in their own lives but immediately see it in a cynical way and demonize God or His people for the work they are doing. They might say they are doing it for their own ego, or because they want something from me, or because they want to just feel good about themselves. The people who tested Jesus by asking him for a sign might be like people today who say that I won’t believe in God unless he appears in some miraculous way or they pray to God saying that I will believe you if you give me a good job, that girl/guy I’ve been pursuing, that nice house on the hill, good health, etc. They put up all these conditions and are blind to all the work that God is already doing around them.
It’s so tragic to see how these people missed out. But this is exactly what my pride does when I expect God to work under my parameters. It causes me to be so bent on myself and on my own expectations. It blinds me to the amazing work that God is doing all around me. I think society tells us not to be such a fool and believe what we see. We’ve been programmed to think that being devils advocate and thinking of 1001 explanations of how God’s activity can be explained away is so sophisticated and intellectually sound. But this is so far from the truth. Our pride just leaves us hollow and empty, devoid of the capacity for awe and amazement and wonder. It also numbs our hearts to respond to God’s work and we remain unchanged and untouched by God.
· Strong man … stronger man
This analogy of the strong man, fully armed, guarding his house is such an apt description of Satan and how he has taken captive the hearts of unbelievers and protects their hearts with all sorts of sin and lies. He is the strong man who has completely taken over peoples’ hearts, causing shame, guilt, and making people powerless to overcome their sin. As I have been in college ministry for the past 9 years, I see how Satan, the “strong man,” is fully armed and he plunges people deeper in sin. I thought about how the Internet is such an issue for a lot of people. It is such an effective way that Satan causes people to remain in their captive state. There are so many addictions, depression, anxiety, guilt, shame, lust, greed, all sorts of bitterness and resentment that seems like the “strong man” has no chance at being overthrown. We ourselves are powerless to overcome him with our own self-will. People try all sorts of self-help, different methods to silence the voices, to change themselves by sheer effort, but never being truly set free. But thank God that Jesus is the “stronger man”! Indeed, Christ has the power to disarm the strong man, bind him up and set us free. Time and time again, I see Christ binding up the strong man who has occupied people’s hearts and setting them free from their addictions, their remorse and shame. Just this past month here in Riverside, we experienced 4 salvations and these students have been witnessing Christ, the stronger man, setting them free from years and years of bondage under the strong man. The imagery of the stronger man, completely disarming the strong man, making Satan powerless to grab a hold of them again is so true and right.
Submitted by Abe Y. from Gracepoint Riverside Church
What constitutes a house being swept clean and put in order?
A house that is swept clean and put in order is someone who has put his life in order by his own efforts. It’s someone who has tried to purify himself on his own merits and efforts.
What is the danger of keeping the house empty (i.e., without the “strong man” occupying it)?
The danger of keeping the house empty is that for a time, it may seem like everything is fine and dandy – but the reality is that there’s nothing preventing disaster from striking. Just because something may be “clean and put in order” doesn’t mean that something big can’t just come in and cause a wreck. Thus, the person with the clean, empty house thinks everything is under control – but that’s merely an illusion.
I’ve experienced possessing an “empty house,” both in my own life as well as in the lives of some of those I minister to. The mindset goes something like this: I’ve been clean for x many weeks now, so I must be clean. And indeed, for the past x weeks, I have been clean; the house is in order, and everything is great. Yet, as soon as I start developing this attitude, it doesn’t take very long before I succumb to temptations. 1 Corinthians 10:12 offers a great warning, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”
What we need is not just a clean house – what we really need is the stronger man occupy our home. This strong man is Christ himself. I have experienced this. It is only when I become completely open and vulnerable about my struggles, about my issues, about my pitfalls, weaknesses, sins, and character flaws – only then can I experience true relief that lasts. Logically, it only makes sense: I cannot guard my own house alone – I cannot keep myself from sinning on my own. I need the help of the Holy Spirit, and accountability and help from believers, the body of Christ. In order for Christ, the Head, and his church, the Body, to enter in, I have to die a thousand deaths to my pride and ego. It means I need to acknowledge, each and every time, that I cannot safeguard my own house, that I am too weak to do it on my own. Yet, that is simple truth: if I don’t allow the “strong man” to come in, I’m only opening myself up to Satan’s attacks.
Why does Jesus call the crowd “a wicked generation”?
Jesus calls the crowd “a wicked generation” because they come asking for preposterous things like asking for signs, even after Jesus demonstrated for them a sign. If casting out demons and making the mute speak was not enough, what could possibly help them to believe? Thus, Jesus labels them as “wicked” because they’re not really searching for the truth – they want to see signs for the sake of seeing signs.
What are the characteristics of the Ninevites and the Queen of the South that will condemn the “wicked generation” at the judgment?
Neither the Ninevites nor the Queen of the South were part of God’s chosen people, yet they both sought after God with a genuine heart. The Ninevites took Jonah’s rebuke of them to heart – they put on sackcloth, fasted, and repented for forty days, and turned away from their sinful lives (Jonah 3). The Queen of the South made the long journey to meet with Solomon. She questioned and tested him, but unlike this “wicked generation,” she did this out of a genuine search for truth. When she was satisfied by the answers Solomon had provided, she lavished praises upon God and upon his kingdom, knowing how wonderful it is for them to be governed by one who has possessed wisdom from God (1 Kings 10). Jesus is saying that even though these people are God’s chosen ones, they don’t take the time to thoroughly do an all-out search for God; they merely want to be entertained by miraculous signs.
What is implied in Jesus saying that the sign of Jonah is the only sign that will be given?
Jesus’ death on the cross and his resurrection – this “sign of Jonah” – will be the wedge between the beliefs of people. Among the many signs and miracles that he’s performed, this is the only one by which all men must answer to. Who is Jesus, why was he was nailed on the cross, and what happened to him after three days?
This is the sign that each of us needs to answer – even to this day. How we answer this will determine how we answer Jesus’ question: “who do you say I am?” Was he a lunatic who died on the cross because of his lunacy? Was he a liar, and his deception is so great that his disciples continue to spread such lies? Or is he Lord, one who willingly went to the cross to die for our sins, and who has triumphed over sin and overcame the grave?
This is a sign that a simple “by Beelzebub” answer will not suffice. Yet, it’s a sign that does require thinking – those who are a part of the “wicked generation” will just shrug it off and not think much about it – but this is the only sign given to them. As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15, this is the linchpin of all Christianity. It’s an opportunity for them to choose to deal with it, to struggle with this, and come out with their own thought-out conclusions. It’s the sign in which those who are like the Queen of the South or the Ninevites will gladly take, and those who have wrestled with it will come out satisfied.
Submitted by Ernestine L. from Gracepoint Riverside Church
This passage teaches on how to approach God in prayer and in conversation. As these disciples ask Jesus how to pray, it is interesting to note that the first line of the Lord’s Prayer is “Father, hallowed be your name.” To be hallowed means to be made or set apart as holy; to be respected or honored greatly. Jesus tells the disciples that this ought to be the way they start their prayer. He does not tell the disciples to start off by listing off all their worries and concerns or even to confess their sins, and to ask of God to answer their prayer. However, the most initial thing is to name our God who He truly is – hallowed be His Name. For our God to be a holy God and to be revered means that prayer cannot be given unto Him without care. The fact that we can have this God to call upon is because He created each one of us, He gave us life and meaning. The disciples are where they are because they were mercifully and graciously given that privilege, honor and dignity now to follow after Jesus and call upon their mighty God in answer to prayer in times of need and desperation.
Secondly in the first part of v2 is the fact that we call upon our God as Father. A father brings comfort, safety, protection, unconditional love. A father is reliable, solidly grounded, and yet wants to share so deeply his heart with his children, with openness that allows us to approach him in an unguarded manner. In essence, Jesus does not tell his disciples to approach prayer and to approach God as just a prayer-answering machine to whom they could merely dispense prayer requests and as a result receive answers.
Jesus goes on to teach them what to ask for in prayer – “Give us each day our daily bread.” This, in essence, is calling upon a trust in the Lord to provide for them. This is telling God that they ought not to rely upon themselves and when they let go of the things that keep them tied to this world, that as they come forward and call upon their God, their God would provide daily.
Lastly in the Lord’s Prayer, all sins are laid forth. Jesus tells his disciples to ask God to forgive them their sins. This is important because sin is the reality of who we are. When we do not come to God clearly confessing our sins, we do not come to God in honest relationship. It is because we sin that we need God so desperately. And it is because God offers a forgiveness, a mercy, and a redemption found in nothing else in this world. It is because when we come to Him in this kind of desperate prayer that we receive freedom and release from our sins. And as we experience forgiveness, we are able to continue to love and share with others this forgiveness.
Jesus, goes on to tell this parable about the man who asks a friend for three loaves of bread. The friend does not answer his request based on their friendship, but because of his boldness. And it is because of this man’s boldness that he ends up receiving whatever he needs. He asks, therefore he receives. In the same way, we are to ask God for our needs. We are to place in Him this kind of trust, this great level of reliance. When we do not do this and instead rely upon ourselves or our own efforts, we default to lessening our faith and trust in God. We instead set aside our relationship with God and think we can handle it or that we can foolishly find these three loaves of bread somehow. But when we finally come to God and ask Him, God’s response is not a meager one – He responds with more than enough, He responds with wealth and abundance beyond anything we can imagine.
When I examine my own prayers, oftentimes I have to remind myself that there is a person, a holy God, to whom I am praying to. One to whom I cannot simply dump mindless prayers toward. In my prayer, I must utter words with sincerity and with great awe that the God of all the Heaven should listen to my cry. I glean from Jesus’ teaching here that prayer often begins with acknowledging my holy God, that He who offers me life and so many chances to come to Him does not deserve hollow or shallow prayer. I ought to go to Him with an honest and trusting heart. When I come to God in prayer, in essence I am releasing my grasp and control over my life and how I want things to pan out. In essence, I am deepening my relationship with Him every time I go to Him asking for help.
Submitted by Brian W. from Gracepoint Riverside Church
• Pray this prayer slowly, reflecting on each phrase.
• How does addressing God as “father” change my view about prayer and how I relate to God?
Father, You are the one who know and cares about every thought. You consider all my deeds and know the times when I’ve succumbed to my pride, the times I struggle with temptations, and You even with all that knowledge, You care like a father would his son to really consider what is my greatest need. It’s not fame, fortune, or recognition; it’s not even just the simple provisions of life, though You do provide that as well, but it’s the answer to my biggest problem which is sin and death. And a father looking after his son, knowing that it’s not candy he needs, but food full of nutrients and energy… not wanting his kid to grow up to be a hooligan, he wants his kid to be educated to be a man of respect and honor, he’s going to teach him the right way to live. And Father this is what I know You want for me, in the end: the best life, though it’s going to involve love that seems intolerable, but that is what a good dad does for his kid to help him grow.
Understanding God as a Father reveals that I’m not just relating to an emotionless, yet all-powerful deity, that I’m not relating to a genie or a distant grandfather at best. Rather it puts character behind the face of God, that He is actually someone who cares – a perfect Father who is always waiting for his children to return, the same kind of Father who stands at home like in Luke 15 waiting for his prodigal sons to return. He’s a Father who will provide and want the best for his children. But also it’s not a Father who spoils His kids, but one who wants his children to mature in their character. In that light, praying to God isn’t something just done casually – how would dad feel if I just went up to him and said “Hey, could I get this, this, this, and that?” No, rather it’s someone you’d might ask for wisdom or advice, and if you did need something He would probably know whether or not what you ask for is something good or not. In short prayer to God isn’t something done mechanically because we ought, but a recognition that there is a relationship there, as God is the Father and I am his child.
hallowed be your name,
You aren’t just another thing to be simply placed in my life, but to be set apart from everything else. The space you occupy in my life doesn’t tack on to my career, my family, my ego, but it is placed above all that. And because of that You ought to rule in my life over all these things. I’m not to take the fact that I call you God, Lord over my life as something lightly – but this is the reality of calling You God means everything I have is Yours: my career, my marriage, my future, even something as obvious as ministry that too is Yours.
Give us each day our daily bread.
You provide for our every need, just from the basics of food and shelter, and even richly blessing me with all the relationships that I enjoy, truly You provided me with much, much more than most of the rest of the world would ever enjoy. And that is what I want to be reminded of, that I have been given more than just my daily bread, but nourishment physically, emotionally, and spiritually in abundance – and with these resources I ought to go out and love and provide too for those who don’t have so much.
Forgive us our sins,
Most importantly than just provided for earthly provisions, you’ve provided the eternal provision to save me from all my deceitful desires; that even though I’ve made very poor choices in the past, that more than just wound you, but during those times, when I opted to choose my own path, thinking “Oh it’s only a little fun,” or “hey that’s how the world operates, it’s selfish and I have to look after myself,” those times when I forsake the relationships you’ve given me because I wanted to pursue my own life, You though hurt by my actions, still gave me another chance when I came to my senses.
for we also forgive everyone who sins against us.
• What is the significance of forgiving others as we ask for forgiveness?
And in the same way let me be able to show that same kind of grace to other people. Just thinking about the heroes of faith of in our contemporary time, who forgave so much more. Elisabeth Elliot through being able to forgive the Auca people for her husband’s death saved a whole tribe. Corrie Ten Boom able to forgive her Nazi captor found healing for his man and herself. Christ who pleaded to God while on the cross “Forgive them for they know not what they do,” gave me and the rest of the world a fighting chance against sin. That I too, could live this kind of life – that even in the smallest things to be able to forgive someone even if forget about it, distance themselves from me, to the harshest of critics out there against ministry I am involved in help me to forgive so that I can imitate this kind of life.
And lead us not into temptation.’ ”
• “And lead us not into temptation”: “This should not be interpreted that God will lead us into temptation (James 1:13-15)…[rather] God has a power to protect us and keep us from succumbing to temptation.” What does this prayer regarding temptation show about the proper posture Jesus wants his disciples to have toward sin?
As I recognize how entrenched sin is in my life, protect me from all the things that the world throws at me. As I minister to people against their lusts, protect me too from the overly-sexualized media this world is trying to get us all to consume. As the desire to settle becomes greater with age, protect me – giving me a constant reminder that this world is not my home, it’s only a temporary place that I reside, and help me throw off that much quicker any notion that there is any kind of other life to live besides the one of saving souls and delivering others that in the same way I’ve been delivered. I know that You will be faithful to protect me giving me the church and it’s people, for “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
• What is the main point of the parable of the friend seeking bread at midnight and what lesson does it teach about prayer?
How often in the world that we live in we experience this: a world of limited resources, people don’t have anything to spare, you ask a friend for help, they might not have enough time, you ask him to spot you, and they hesitate… But God knowing that this is the world we live in reminds us that He isn’t like this at all, that God isn’t stingy God though sometimes it may feel like prayers aren’t being answered, but that in prayers there’s a need to be persistent and “he will get up and give him as much as he needs.” There’s a reality to prayer that we can’t quite understand, a lot of times we can ask, how come I’ve been unemployed for long, or how come the people I care about will never listen to me and what I have to say about the Gospel, it’d be almost easier to throw our hands in the air and say forget about it. But there is something about persevering in prayer that is special, praying for that loved one for year hoping that they would become Christian and when that day comes and when you see the journey that God has taken and how faithful God has been, it’s a joyful experience more so if it was merely handed to us. And I’ve experienced these joys of burdening in prayer and finding God proving himself to be faithful at the other side, seeing my brother becoming Christian and just the amazing story. Praying for provisions of job for not only myself but others and just seeing the kind of journey God provided all of us – and if everything just came to us, there would be no conviction on our end, no need for boldness and the degrees of joy I’d experience and the growth through it wouldn’t have been as much: like a father who does not want to spoil their kid, God will prove Himself faithful in the end, but do more than just answer our prayer along the way, but give us so much more.
Submitted by Jammy Y. from Gracepoint Riverside Church
- How does addressing God as “father” change my view about prayer and how I relate to God?
Addressing God as my father changes my view about prayer and how I relate to God because then God’s not a distant figure that I’m unable to relate to, but rather someone like a father. Coming to God in prayer as a father there’s already a pre-established relationship and I don’t have to have any pre-tense or concern about how I approach God. It’s like when Ellie comes to me and asks me for milk in the morning. Even though I’m still sleeping and not quite awake yet, she doesn’t necessarily get scared if daddy is asleep or not, her attitude is I’m just going to ask. She can do that because she knows that I’m her daddy and that’s all she really needs to know and understand. That’s the basis of her asking me; it’s because I’m her father. Likewise I can come to God in the same manner. He is my heavenly Father, and I can have that confidence that He will listen. I don’t have to fear because the relationship between God and me is that He is my Father, which means that I am loved unconditionally.
- How does one receive the Holy Spirit from God?
One receives the Holy Spirit from God through asking.
- Why is giving of the Holy Spirit by God compared to parents giving good gifts to their children?
Giving of the Holy Spirit by God is compared to parents to giving good gifts to their children because this is how much God desires to bestow this gift upon us. What parent wouldn’t want to give their kids good things? This is the same attitude that God has and wished that we would all be like these kids that just ask. God wants to bless us and He wants to give us His Holy Spirit.
Please write out a prayer of commitment or confession either based on today’s text or upon reflection over recent events in your life.
Dear Heavenly Father, thank you for teaching me how to pray and that in my prayer I can approach you like a Father. Help me to embrace this fact daily and dispel any notion that I have to somehow earn my prayers. Those are times when Satan lies to me, when he deceives me; please help me to be on guard against these kinds of lies. Help me to recognize also Lord, that you are a Holy God and that when I’m praying, I’m not just praying to my Father in Heaven, but also the Holy and most Sacred one. Help me to know that you here and that in the most difficult of prayers that your Kingdom is here, that your rule is here. That is the greatest news and so I pray O’ Lord that indeed I can begin to ask, seek and knock. Thank you for your eagerness to bestow your Holy Spirit upon me and for allowing me to come and relate to you like a Father.
Submitted by Allen C. from Gracepoint Riverside Church
SOME IDEAS AND WORDS TO CONSIDER
- Who to pray to
In teaching his disciples to pray, Jesus addresses God as “Father.” And so in our prayers, we are approach God as if though he is our “Father.” God is not some distant deity who has no interest in his lowly creation. The fact that Jesus teaches his disciples to address God as “Father” reveals his view that God is intimately interested in them. In verses 11-13, Jesus describes our heavenly father as more gracious and good than even earthly fathers, who, though evil, know how to give good gifts to their children. How much greater is God, our Father in heaven? He is much more willing (and able) to give good gifts to His children. This paints a picture of God as one who wants to bless, who wants to provide, who wants to respond to his children’s needs, and who is very interested in what his children are concerned about and ask for. Just as Steve responds to Elijah and Micah and Jammy responds to Ellie, God is this responsive to our prayers. I imagine that these fathers are delighted when their children come to them with a need. They want to give the best to their children, and even when they say “no” to a request, it’s not because they’re being punitive or cold, but it’s out of love.
This corrects the view I often have of God when I pray. God does hear my prayers. God is interested in what’s going on in my life. God does take my words seriously. God is delighted when I pray to Him.
Another aspect about our Father in heaven comes in the next line: “Hallowed be your name.” God’s name is to be respected, revered, and honored. God is holy, set apart, different. God is not like a genie that answers to our desires, as if we have a claim over Him.
- What to pray for
Jesus instructs his disciples to pray for a few things: “your kingdom come,” “our daily bread,” forgiveness of sins, and not to be lead into temptation. This implies that God’s will is not being done on the earth, and we are to pray for that to happen. We are to pray that this world that is hostile to God’s authority will bend its knee to Him. We are to pray for stubborn and rebellious hearts to hear the truth, repent, and respond to God’s gracious offer of forgiveness and amnesty. We are to pray for God to heal all of the brokenness we see in the world, brokenness due to our sins, to disease, to natural disasters, to evil and the spiritual battle raging all around us. We are to pray and long for the day when everything is made right again, when there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain.
We are also to pray for our daily bread, which is our daily sustenance. This is a posture of dependence on God, just as children are dependent on their parents. We are in need of God’s provision not only in terms of basic food, clothing, and shelter, but also for our other needs, including relational, emotional, and spiritual needs. We need wisdom, courage, strength, and love that is found not in frail bodies and weak wills, but in God our provider who strengthens us to do His work and comforts us in our times of need.
We are also to pray for the forgiveness of sins, both for ourselves and for others who sin against us. We are to come humbly to God, acknowledging our sins, our choice to reject God and play king over our lives. And how sinful and unclean we are! On any given day, I just have to look back and see the stains on my heart caused by my pride, lust, envy, greed, jealousy, anger, hatred, and deceit, among other things. “For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly.” (Mark 7:21-22). Oh how my heart needs to be cleansed daily! And how can God forgive me if I am not willing to forgive others? When I recognize the depth of my sin, I realize that I do not deserve to be forgiven. But if God is willing to wash away all of my unrighteousness, how can I not show the same mercy toward those who sin against me?
Submitted by Eunice K. from Gracepoint Riverside Church
The text describes Martha as “distracted,” and Jesus goes on to say that she is “worried and upset about many things.” This gives us a deeper look into Martha’s distraction. She is distracted not simply because she has many tasks to do, but because she is worried and upset about those tasks. Jesus implies that Martha has made a certain choice, which was the lesser choice compared to what Mary had chosen.
What Martha had chosen caused her to be primarily worried about and focused on the tasks involved in being a good host. Jesus’ words make me think about the choice I have in my perspective on life. My perspective on my life- on what I have to do, on what is urgent, on what is worrisome and upsetting, is not necessarily undisputed reality. I realize that I just assume that my perspective, and the emotions that follow, are a true reflection of reality and therefore others ought to acknowledge and bend to it. But Jesus is saying that there are choices in perspective, and there are those that are better, or more true to reality and more aligned with God’s perspective. So before I insist on my perspective and demand that others yield to my feelings and priorities, I need to consider whether my choice of perspective is what Jesus would say is the better one. When I am called to account for the kind of perspective I choose to have, then I am forced to think about the desires behind my perspective. So often it’s my plain selfishness and desire for selfish gain that forms my perspective. Because I want to feel like I am in control and on top of things, I find that I focus on how others are getting in the way of my agenda, or causing me to have to change my schedule. Or, because I want to feel like I’m a good minister, I find that I want to focus on whether I appear like a good minister to others, instead of actually focusing on the kind of sacrificial ministry of loving my neighbor that is in need, that Jesus calls me to do.
• Don’t you care
It would have been a lot of work to host 13 hungry men and who knows how many others who were with them. Martha is a generous woman to open her home to them. But what is interesting is that her probably very sincere desire to serve Jesus and his disciples quickly turns into an attitude of self-pity, bitterness, and even anger towards not only Mary, but Jesus as well. Her feelings come out in an accusation, “don’t you care..,?”, and a demand, “Tell her…!” Just seeing this picture of this accusatory and demanding person is piercing for me. I know that many times I have had this kind of attitude, whether it comes out in words or in the way I feel inside. I know how quickly I can slide from the desire to serve God to feelings of being overwhelmed, frustration, accusation, blame, or self-pity. This is sure evidence of my sinful nature that overtakes even my best intentions.
Interestingly, Jesus leaves it to us to think about what is that “one thing” that is needed. It would seem easier if Jesus had just told us all, “All you need to do in such a situation is to focus on _____.” But he doesn’t do that and gives us this picture of Mary instead, sitting at his feet and quietly listening to him. The lesson I see here for me is that when I am feeling upset and worried, it’s a sure sign that I need to take some time to pause, make the time and space for myself to listen to what Jesus has to say to me. If I did this, I would save myself and those around me from my sinful heart spilling over into complaints, bitterness or self-focus. One thing I realize from this text is that Jesus knew what was going on inside of Martha. So I can be reassured that Jesus knows what is going on inside of me and can address me. I can honestly confess what is going on inside, because it’s no surprise to him. This is something I experience time and time again. When I actually bring to Jesus the various worries and upsetting things on my mind, Jesus can speak into those situations and give me fresh wisdom, a different perspective that helps me move forward, and often a reminder of the basic truths of the gospel – who I am, who God is, how we are all sinners in need of the gospel, and how Jesus meets our need in so many different ways. And it’s these reminders that are what really changes my perspective and refreshes my heart so that I realize I don’t have to react with bitterness or complaints.
Pastor Ed and Kelly made the long drive to So Cal to attend Phil Chen’s dad’s funeral, as well as to spend some time with the San Diego and Riverside teams. They did Bible study with us and shared some wisdom about what to do when we start feeling tired as we try to serve God and build his church here. One main thing they talked about was the need to return back to the basic gospel and our first love with God. This was such a timely message of encouragement and challenge for our teams, and for me personally. I am reminded through today’s text that in those times when I feel worried and upset about many things, it’s a chance for me to actually come back to the feet of Jesus and receive fresh words from him that can address what is going on inside of me. I can’t fix those wrong emotions and attitude on my own. I know, because I have failed many, many times to do so. As much as I wish I was not like Martha, I know I am. But I know what I can do the next time I feel like Martha – to receive Jesus’ invitation to choose what is better, to pause and listen to what He has to say to me.
Submitted by Jasper C. from Gracepoint Riverside Church
After reading through this brief passage, I noticed that my initial “gut reaction” is that I’m somewhat surprised by the ending. Up through verse 41 everything feels normal and predictable, but when Jesus weighs in with his response to the situation between Mary and Martha, His siding with Mary somewhat catches me off-guard. At first I feel as though Martha’s reaction to her lazy sister Mary, who’s just sitting there while Martha herself is running around taking care of all the preparations that had to be made, seems to be quite reasonable and justified. It appears as if Mary doesn’t understand, she’s lacking the maturity to see that having Jesus over isn’t just a matter of letting him into the house but that there’s all these things you have to do to properly host somebody important in your house. Then in v.41 when Jesus throws in his judgment of the situation in favor of Mary, it catches me off guard. “What? Well, I guess Jesus must be taking into consideration a completely different set of factors when assessing this situation between Martha and Mary.” It’s probably not the case that what Martha is doing is flat out wrong, after all she’s just being a responsible host and trying to show Jesus hospitality by making sure that he’s got a comfortable accommodations, something to eat and tea to drink. Jesus himself doesn’t say that Martha has chosen the wrong thing, only that Mary has chosen what is better. It comes down to a matter of priorities, and I guess here Martha fails to recognize that the most important thing that she can do at this moment is to relate with Jesus by spending time with Him rather than running around serving him.
I think that one particular point that I can draw from the text today centers around the “many things” that Martha was worried and upset when all that was actually needed was for her to simply relate with Jesus. It says that Martha was busy with all the preparations that had to be made, but chances are these are things like cleaning or making some food to serve Jesus – important tasks of course, but they don’t have to be made, especially when the tradeoff is time spent directly with Jesus. Similarly, I realize that in my own Christian life I sometimes become worried and upset, or at least flustered, in a very Martha-like way in the sense that I get caught up in the “many things” that come with serving Jesus in my context, things like carrying out all the activities that we have as a ministry, tasks, roles that I have in our church. It’s not always, but sometimes these things pile up quickly especially during a busy time like fall outreach – and it’s at those times in which I find myself spending less time with Jesus just because it’s busy – I’m more distracted during DT’s, don’t spend as much time in prayer throughout the week. However, isn’t this making the same mistake that Martha is making? I recognize that when this happens in my life, it’s akin to losing sight of that one thing that is needed, which is to relate with Jesus – for the main way that Jesus speaks to me and addresses my life is through his words in the Bible, which is why DT is important, and through regular prayer time. When I’m fully engaged in prayer and DT, making that a priority above all other things in my schedule, that would be my way of “choosing what is better,” which is to in my heart assume the Mary-like posture listening attentively to what Jesus is saying.
Submitted by Joel L from Gracepoint Riverside
At the Home of Martha and Mary
38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”
41 “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42 but only one thing is needed.a Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
• Reflect on the scene of Martha, doing so much but feeling bitter and resentful toward everyone. What could Martha have done differently?
Martha could have looked at the situation with a different perspective rather than feel bitter and resentful toward everyone. If she was getting worried about the preparations, she could have asked her sister for some help, but instead we see Martha complaining to Jesus. Another approach Martha could have taken was to have the perspective that she gets to do something loving for Jesus and his disciples, and this loving attitude would supply her with the strength to do the hard work. Love doesn’t calculate time, energy, suffering, and effort, but it endures and gives.
•Have I experienced resentment that I am doing some thankless task “by myself”?
I have experienced many times of resentment doing thankless tasks at work “by myself”. Resentment for me often comes in situations like this where I have to do extra work or take on some task that wasn’t created by me but it was due to someone’s laziness and selfishness. The first couple of times may be tolerable, but when it happens over and over again with signs all around the sink asking for people to wash their dishes, it gets pretty difficult to not get bothered.
•What does Martha’s bitterness reveal about her priorities?
Martha’s bitterness reveals that her priorities are on herself. It could be the case that she is worried about being labeled as a bad host. She wants all the preparations to be done in a certain way and at a certain time, and if it’s not turning out that way, she expects others to take notice and care about what she is doing.
•What can we learn about the difference between Martha’s and Jesus’ evaluation of Mary’s priorities?
From the difference between Martha’s and Jesus’ evaluation of Mary’s priorities, we can learn that what’s going on in the heart gets expressed through the priorities we think others should have as well as ourselves. What concerns us or what we value may be different than what God values and we need to be mindful of the “lens” we are looking through.
•What is the “one thing” Jesus is referring to?
The “one thing” Jesus is referring to is a relationship with him, Jesus Christ.
•What are the “many things” in my life that distract me from focusing on my relationship with God?
The “many things” in my life that distract me from focusing on my relationship with God often are related to security and comfort. There is the temptation to strive for security in how I am viewed by others, whether it be at church, around family, or at work. It’s doing battle against comparing myself with others, seeking respect, or desiring advancement in my career. Seeking comfort distracts me in that I focus too much on what frustrates me, and I don’t want to love and care for others, because I want to be happy first. The combination of these “many things” causes me to react emotionally in a negative way and it’s during these times where I reflect on what’s going in my heart, and I find that it’s because I’m not thinking about my relationship with God and trying to please Him. I am hungering for love or something to feed my pride rather than doing the simple task of focusing on God and having a loving response. In being painfully honest with myself, I come to find that these desires are not really important, and I can let them go, and when this happens, the word of God and times of prayer have greater impact because my mind and heart are not distracted with “many things”. When it comes to being busy with tasks and responsibilities, I’m no longer thinking about myself but I am thinking that I’m living before God, and what I am doing is helpful for others, and I’m able to have that perspective of noticing needs around me.
Submitted by Jonathan W. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
- What reasons might the priest and the Levite have cited for their avoidance?
There are many possible reasons the priest and the Levite might have cited for their avoidance, all of which would have seemed sensible and justified to them. Being part of the religious establishment, they may thought they were doing the pious thing by not defiling themselves by touching or even going near something that could make them unclean. Perhaps they were running late to some engagement, or had to take care of some urgent or important business such that they didn’t feel they had the time to spare. They might have simply assumed he was already dead, or so close to it that any attempt at rescue would have been futile. They might have thought to themselves that they weren’t the right or best person to take care of this problem – after all, they’re clergy, not doctors – and so someone better qualified should help the man. Given that the highway was a dangerous place fraught with bandits, they may have wanted to avoid running into some kind of trap. It would be mistaken to pigeon-hole the priest and Levite and simply dismiss them as cruel and uncaring people – on the contrary, they would be people who genuinely wanted the best for others. Instead, this part of the parable shows how well-meaning and well-intentioned people can still allow reasonable-sounding excuses prevent them from actually doing the right thing.
- According to this parable, what is Jesus’ answer to the question “Who is my neighbor”?
According to this parable, Jesus’ answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” is anyone around me who is in need, to whom I can show mercy and compassion in some way. Clearly, it is not a matter of ethnic, cultural, or socioeconomic similarity, how much I have in common with the person, how much we get along, or how much that person can benefit me in return. Jesus turns the usual criteria which people use to determine friendship completely on its head – instead, if there is any way I can be a blessing to someone else, then he/she is my neighbor. This means that in essence, everyone is my neighbor, because there will always be a way I can show someone love – if I feel like I can’t, it most likely means I haven’t looked hard enough to find a need or way to show compassion. Practically speaking then, my neighbors include the co-worker who recently went through surgery, the student going through family problems at home, the couple down the block who just had their first child, and many others around me.
- In what ways does sin rob, strip and beat people?
A well-known maxim states, sin will take you farther than you want to go, keep you longer than you want to stay, and cost you more than you want to pay. Sin is the ultimate destroyer of people’s lives. It takes away our dignity, as we pursue lesser things of life based on our base desires rather than aligning with God’s plan for our lives. I think about the flirtatious young woman who believes that getting into a romantic relationship is her greatest need, the ambitious businessman who pursues significance in power and security in money at the expense of family and meaningful relationships, as well as the immature “kidult” who just wants to have fun, be comfortable, and avoid pain/struggle at any cost. Sin leaves us scarred, as the ways we are hurt by our own and others’ sins leave lasting negative memories and emotions. I think about the sharp, biting words I have used to lash out at other people, as well as being on the receiving end of hurtful words and actions. Finally, sin ruins our relationships with God and others, as our pride and greed keeps us from giving and receiving the unconditional love that every one of us desires.
- In what ways was Jesus like this Good Samaritan for me?
Jesus has been like this Good Samaritan for me by having compassion when I was in the midst hitting rock-bottom. As I started facing the consequences of my sins, I easily saw that my sin had ravaged my life, as I was filled with hurt, guilt, and a desire for the earth to swallow me whole. Nothing else in the world could offer genuine healing – media, school, even well-meaning secular friends could only provide temporary distractions and escapism. I began to feel hopeless, that nothing could ever be done to undo the mess I had made of my life. Yet Jesus alone offered a solution: forgiveness and unconditional love. Like the Good Samaritan in the parable, He had pity on me rather than simply leaving me to my own devices. He tended to and bandaged the wounds I had accumulated, and brought me to the “inn,” a haven where I could recover. As I think about what Christ has done for me, I am filled with gratitude, that He would rescue someone so proud and rebellious into a transformed life filled with purpose and joy. The song by Hillsong United, “You Rescued Me” captures this well:
You rescued me and picked me up
A living hope of grace revealed
A life transformed in righteousness
O Lord You have rescued me
Forgiving me, You healed my heart
And set me free from sin and death
You brought me life You’ve made me whole
O Lord You have rescued me
- In what ways is the “inn” a metaphor for the church?
The “inn” is an apt metaphor for the church, because the church is the place where sinful people can be taken to be healed and restored – i.e., a hospital for the sick. In the parable, the Good Samaritan leaves the injured man at the inn, telling the innkeeper to look after him until he returns. As alluded to above, this is exactly what I experienced during college. God placed people from the church in my life, who extended His love and care to me, becoming a community where I could be fully known, and both receive and give love. Through this community, I experienced how love can indeed cover over a multitude of sins as well as victory over my sinful struggles, all of which on my own would have been impossible. This highlights the importance of the church – God does not save us simply into a life that is independently lived out. Instead, once He saves us He brings us to His inn, the church, where we can live life together with other people who have similarly rescued. There is something about this kind of tight-knit life-on-life community that is an essential part of God’s salvation plan. And while I’ve been here at our church over 10 years now, I only appreciate more and more that I am not called to succeed in Christian life on my own, but that I have fellow brothers and sisters, also saved and forgiven, with whom I can run the race set before us together.
- How have I responded to Jesus’ command: “Go and do likewise.”
I have responded to Jesus’ command “Go and do likewise” by committing myself to God’s ministry, a life of love and sacrifice. After college, I joined our church’s college ministry, as I wanted to live out what it means to be a fisher of men, to take part in God’s ministry of reconciliation. That said, while I strive to live a life of sacrificial love, I know that I fall so short, so much of the time. There are still so many ways I am just like the priest and Levite, finding any excuse to avoid having to do the hard work of love. Yet when I think back to my own testimony, of how Jesus saved me, as well as look at the many people at our church who are sacrificing so much, I find strength to keep at it despite failure, to never be satisfied that I’m doing enough. Looking back, I knew that if I held back from serving after graduating, rather than having more time for myself, my life would instead have just been filled by something lesser, most likely career and the pursuit of comfort/financial security. As I look around at people who are in my profession, they live rather sad lives, usually disgruntled with being overworked, having few deep friendships, lives that revolve only around the nuclear family, and living for the weekend/vacation. This gives me even greater assurance that obedience to God’s command “Be a neighbor” is indeed the most blessed life.
Submitted by Nelson W. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
- What reasons might the priest and the Levite have cited for their avoidance?
There are many reasons the priest and Levite could have given to explain why they avoided the man lying there on the road. He could be dead and for the priest, touching a dead man would make him unclean and that came with consequences. Helping the man would also make them vulnerable to falling prey to the many robbers on the road to Jericho. Or it could have been a trap set up by the robbers. There was definitely danger involved in helping the man and the priest and Levite were not willing to take such a risk. But even aside from the danger, getting involved would have been an inconvenience. The priest and Levite would probably say that they had enough to do on their hands, enough people to worry about and deal with, didn’t have the resources or money to help the man if he needed medical care, didn’t have time because they were in a hurry, etc. They could have come up with many excuses to justify their inaction but in the end, helping the man involved a personal cost for them that they were unwilling to pay.
- According to this parable, what is Jesus’ answer to the question “Who is my neighbor”?
Here, Jesus redefines the definition of neighbor for the expert in the law. The twist to this parable is that the priest and Levite are the ones you would normally expect to help the traveler but they didn’t. Rather, it’s the person the Jews would normally have nothing to do with, the Samaritan, who had mercy on the man and was a neighbor to him. The expert in the law thought his neighbors were only those who were close or who share some kind of mutual bond. This included family, friends, relatives, and fellow Jews. But Jesus tells him that no one is disqualified from being our neighbor, even those he would not normally associate himself with. This is what I need to hear as well because, like the expert in the law, I am so accustomed to being a neighbor only to those who are close to me, who I find of interest, who I am obligated to and responsible for, and who can benefit me in some way. But Jesus’ heart reaches out to everyone and He wants me to share in His heart of compassion for all people.
- In what ways does sin rob, strip and beat people?
“Sin will always cost you more than you intended to pay, it will take you further than you intended to go, and it will keep you longer than you intended to stay.” Sin is tempting and deceptive. It fools us into compromising, taking a step in the wrong direction. It convinces us that things will be ok, that it’s not that bad, that we deserve it, that it will only be this one time and one time won’t hurt that much. Before we know it, we see that the joy and fulfillment promised to us was only a twisted, short-lived version of the real thing. John 10:10 says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy”. We were robbed of true joy because we traded it for something counterfeit that only leaves us emptier and hungrier. Sin strips us of our innocence, dignity, and sense of self-worth. We become physically, mentally, and emotionally scarred from the long-lasting damage of our own sins and the sins others have inflicted on us. Sin fills us with guilt, regret, resentment, and brokenness. It destroys parts of our humanity. It leaves us in a place far from what was promised and sadly, it’s often only after the fact that we realize and see what it has done to us.
- In what ways was Jesus like this Good Samaritan for me?
I have experienced Jesus being the Good Samaritan for me because He found me when I was dead in my sin and rescued me. When I was in high school, there was no one to watch over me as I lived a reckless and destructive life, doing whatever I wanted without any regard for how it would damage my life and the lives of those who loved me. Sin had robbed me and left me empty and broken. But God somehow used this situation, reversed it, and transformed it into a blessing. Jesus had pity on me, picked me up, and carried me to this community of Christ-followers where He has loved and cared for me through the leaders and members of this church. Here, He has been gradually healing me from the damage of sin, bandaging up my wounds as He deals with my sins and shapes me. He has restored my humanity, filling what was empty with true meaning, blessing, and joy.
- In what ways is the “inn” a metaphor for the church?
The church is the “inn” because Jesus rescues us and brings us to a body of believers who have been entrusted to look after and take care of us. It is with other believers that can experience life-giving community, healing, and restoration as we mend the broken relationships we have with ourselves, each other, and God. By living out my life out with leaders, fellow believers, and with sheep to minister to, I have experienced healing from my sins as God shapes me and restores my humanity.
- How have I responded to Jesus’ command: “Go and do likewise.”
Even as I am still in the process of being healed, Jesus has called and allowed me to be the innkeeper, entrusting me to look after and take care of those He rescues and carries to the inn. I have responded to this command by being serving in ministry, currently with college students. But whom I consider a “neighbor” I need to take care of needs to include more than just the students placed under me or the people in my immediate vicinity. I also need to go and be a neighbor to anyone I encounter. Jesus calls me to reach out to them, bring them in, take care of them, and mold them into fellow innkeepers. Being allowed to serve and be a part of God’s work has expanded my heart and filled it with God’s love where there was none before. Obeying Jesus’ calling has been one of the greatest blessings of my life because I have experienced healing and restoration through being used by God to love and serve others.
Heavenly Father, I offer you praise for the love and mercy you have shown a foolish sinner like me. Thank you for how you have been the Good Samaritan in my life, rescuing me when sin had robbed me, beaten me, and left me for dead. Thank you for bringing me to this inn, this church, this community of Christ-followers where I have experienced healing and restoration. Please continue to shape me and fill me with your mercy, love, and compassion as I commit to obeying your command for me to love others the same way you loved me. In Jesus’ name I pray, Amen.
Submitted by Rick Y. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
- Jesus saw this world as a harvest field. Contrast this to how I view this world.
Jesus saw the world as a harvest field. It means that there is a sense of urgency in wanting to go out and harvest the crops because it’s ready. It’s ready to be harvested and there isn’t a lot of time to do it. What does it mean that the people are ready? It means that the gospel can offer something that will satisfy them. They are ready to hear and receive the truth it has to offer. […] The common thread in my story as well as other people is that we are all seeking something that will give us that sense of peace and fulfillment because until we find it, we are all wandering in life. God sees this. The world is in need of the gospel that can provide all of the answers to their questions and they just need someone to show them and explain to them what the gospel truly is. Too many people, like myself, grew up with misconception about what God was like, and what it meant to be a Christian. They need to see genuine Christians living genuine Christian lives.
- According to this passage, what must my life be about as a follower of Jesus?
My life must be about being a harvest worker. That genuine Christian life that can offer answers to all the questions. The harvest is a harvest of soul who are waiting for someone to come and show them the true meaning of life. And the harvest is everywhere.
- What is my harvest field?
When Jesus tells the disciples that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few, my initial thoughts are about mission work and in particular, missions to third world countries or some other areas where the gospel is not available and there are people who are waiting to hear answers to the meaning of their lives. It’s interesting to see how I quickly think of the harvest field being somewhere other than where I am. But one thing that I’ve been realizing more and more is that the harvest is plentiful not just in foreign mission fields, but right in front of us.
- What is the source of their joy in v. 17?
The source of joy for the 72 disciples was the fact that even the demons submitted to them in Jesus name. They were probably amazed at this very satisfactory victory over demons. They felt like they got something done and they were able to free people. and that they were able to accomplish this.
- What is the source of joy Jesus refers to in v. 20?
The source of joy Jesus refers to is that their names are written in heaven, in essence it’s their salvation.
- How do these two differ?
The source of the disciples joy comes from their accomplishments. They were able to do things that they weren’t able to do before. They actually overcame obstacles and came out on top. It was probably a wonderful, exhilarating experience that they could tell all of their fellow disciples and just praise God for doing. They experienced victory. However, as wonderful as it was, it was a joy that was dependent on results. If they didn’t get to experience such powerful experiences of God’s power and deliverance of people who were trapped by these demons, how would they have responded? Would they still be joyful. So Jesus reminds them that these are all good things and they should be rightfully happy, but that it shouldn’t be at the foundation of their joy. What is genuinely joyful and what doesn’t depend on the results of their efforts is the fact that God’s grace was freely poured out to us. That our names have been eternally written in heaven and that nothing can take that away. Romans 8:38 says, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels or demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” This is the source of ultimate joy. The kind of joy that can fuel me to struggle over sin and not become discouraged when I fail, or when things don’t seem to be going the way I want it to go, or when my efforts to love are misunderstood and defeated. It’s okay because God still loves us and nothing can take that away.
- What about “the wise and learned” makes it difficult for them to see “these things” which the “little children” easily see?
The wise and learned think that they already know. They are convinced that how they are seeing the world is the right way to see it. Maybe they’ve said things and based their lives on this view of life and so they aren’t interested in being wrong, but more interested in proving that they are right. So even things that seem to point to a different understanding of life, it will be met with resistance and trying to come up with another way of explaining it based on their own understanding. For me, being so self-sufficient, I couldn’t understand people who did things for others. I think for a long time, I had the understanding that this must somehow benefit them so that’s why they are doing it. If someone from church treated me to dinner, then it’s because they want me to keep coming out rather than the possibility that he just wanted to get to know me and he was being generous with his money. The attitude of the wise and learned is that they already know and they try to explain things away, even things that don’t make sense in their worldview. And contrasted to this is how children learn. They readily accept things and believe it without all the complicated rationalization. They see things as they are, and they are like sponges soaking up everything. I used to see that as gullible, but having been on the cynical and skeptical side, it’s what makes belief in God possible, instead of trying to be nobody’s fool and not believing in anything.
Submitted by Ilju W. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
- In what ways am I preoccupied with this argument that broke out among the disciples?
The disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest. Even though they were with Jesus and learning from Him and witnessing so many miracles, they were too busy comparing themselves to each other. In same way I can become preoccupied with my own competitiveness with others either be at work or in ministry. Even though at work, we are suppose to work together as a team on projects, there is part of me that want to make sure that I get proper credits for my work and that I do slightly better than my co-workers. I know that I should not be competitive but be a salt and light at work, but I can become so busy with my own tasks and responsibilities that I would not consider volunteer for tasks that do not put me in more advantage position at work. Even in ministry, this competitiveness can come out in form of my own insecurities. Are my students having better time than other life group girls? Do they think that our life group time is boring compared to others? My competitiveness wants to make sure that even though I may not be the greatest, I just want to make sure that I am slightly better than others. My focus on others rather than Jesus also robs me of having true fellowship with my leaders and my co-workers in Christ.
- What kind of person will welcome a “little child”?
Who would not welcome a “little child”? Kids are so cute and fun. But to take care of one for long period of time, to be the one to be responsible for a “little child” is another matter. A “little child” has nothing to offer, and if anything it would require a person to invest a lot time and resources to welcome a “little child”. To a grown adult who needs to make something of themselves in this world will not want to welcome a “little child” who will take a way their valuable time and resources. A person who will welcome a “little child” is someone who values life, who is not preoccupied with the competitiveness of this world or with desire to prove oneself in the world. This is someone who knows how to love unconditionally, someone who is not calculating but form relationships for just the sake of relationship.
I was someone who would not have welcomed a “little child”. I avoided any relationship or people who were no benefit to me. I use to define myself by comparing myself to others. Mentally, I would know that I was better than so and so and not as good as so and so. I thought relationships were there to just meet my loneliness and I did not see any value in relationships, so I would have never welcomed a “little child” who could not offer anything to me. But this change as I experienced myself to be a “little child” and yet Jesus welcomed me even though I had nothing to offer but my own brokenness. I experienced more concretely through my relationship with my leaders and my peers. And now I have come to value relationship and my focus shift from what I can gain from relationship to what I can offer in relationship.
- None of these three men ended up following Jesus. What did they value?
First man had no obligations unlike other two men, but Jesus seems to know what was on this man’s heart. Even though this man said that he would follow Jesus wherever Jesus went, it did not seem like he knew what he was committing too. Jesus’ answer paints a true picture of what it would mean for this man to follow him. It wasn’t just physically following Jesus. He probably thought that he would follow Jesus as he was without thinking so much about how he would have to leave other things in his life. This man valued comfort and what he is used to. Second man wanted to go bury his father first. He wanted to complete his duty as a son. He valued his duty and obligation more at this point. And the third man wanted to say bye to his family before he followed Jesus. This man valued his family relationship more than following Jesus. All these man did not have a right priority in mind even though they wanted to follow Jesus. They have placed their families and homes as higher priority than to following Jesus.
- How does Jesus describe one who is unfit for the service in the kingdom of God? Are there ways in which I am “looking back”?
One who is unfit for the service in the kingdom of God is the one who looks back for some reason after they have committed to follow Him.
There were times when I wanted to call it quit living this life of Christian life because things just got too hard and difficult. There are times when I just want to go home after work instead of going to Berkeley to minister to students. There are times when I just want to worry about my own problem not someone else’s. And there times when I just don’t even want to deal with my problems and my own sins. Why do I have to keep on trying to change, to be a better Christian, when I keep on failing? I am tempted to look back when I grow tired of dealing with my sins. Times like these, I wonder how my life would be like living a comfortable yet shallow life. But the answer is obvious. Even though it may seem appealing and it may seem like more comfortable life, I know that I cannot go back knowing what I know now. There is nothing that can be compared to this life I live in Christ where I am working to make eternal difference in people’s life.
- Why does Jesus seem to discourage these men from following him?
Jesus was discouraging them because he wanted to make sure that their priorities were right. They cannot follow him unless following him was their top priority. He did not say that they cannot follow him but he was only making it clear to them what it would mean for them to follow him. And ultimately it was up to them if they thought that following Jesus was worth letting go of what they value more. Following Jesus requires such clarity and commitment because it is not a light matter where you start and quit anytime you want. It is a decision that affects eternality, and it is a decision that will change one’s life forever.
I would not say that Jesus discouraged me from following him but it sure was not an easy decision to make knowing that this decision would completely change my life. I had a difficult time because it was not easy for me to let go of control of my life and completely trust in Jesus. Will my family members understand my decision? Do I know what I am doing with this decision? What about my future? There were many questions but there was only one answer. I knew that I need to surrender my life to Christ, and I knew that I could not do anything for myself of my sins but only in Christ I can be forgiven. I submitted myself to the truth and I committed to follow Jesus. This decision happened ten years ago for me. And what I realized is that when I chose to make Jesus my Lord and Savior, not only did he take care of my sins and my life, but He also watches over everything in my life including my parents. My mom was not pleased with my decision ten years ago, but now she is on the same side as me for she has become Christ follower too. Knowing what I know now, how my mom would go through two cancer scares, I am thankful that it was God who took care of her and carried her through instead of me or my family who would had only little to offer.
Submitted by Jeremiah L. from Gracepoint Berkeley Church
· In what ways am I preoccupied with this argument that broke out among the disciples?
The picture of an argument starting out amongst the disciples over which one of them would be the greatest is interesting because it’s so brazen, and seems so petty and ugly considering all the amazing things they had been witnessing as followers of Jesus. But in the disciples’ argument and in their comparisons of themselves against each other, I recognize so much in myself, except my comparing and my jockeying to be the “greatest” is much more subtle and hidden compared to the disciples’ very open argument about which of them was going to be greatest.
What might the basis of their arguing have been? In the beginning of Luke 9, Jesus sent out the Twelve with the “power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases,” and “to preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick.” Luke 9:6 states that they went from “village to village, preaching the gospel and healing people everywhere.” Later in the chapter, they witnessed Jesus multiplying five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand, and Jesus even used them in that process. Later still, Jesus took Peter, James, and John with him to a mountain to pray, where they experienced the Transfiguration. It takes only a basic observation of sinful human behavior to recognize that the ammunition for the disciples’ arguments probably lay somewhere in these experiences. It would be interesting to hear what the disciples said or what they were thinking as they were arguing about why they were each the greatest: “I healed 8 cripples and 2 blind men!” “Oh yeah? After I passed out those baskets of bread and fish, I had 3 whole basketfuls of broken pieces left over,” or “Well, I got to go with Jesus to that mountain and you didn’t!”
Putting it in this form, it’s pretty clear how petty and foolish this all sounds, but how far is this from the foolish un-stated thoughts that go on in my own heart? In my inner comparison of myself with other people, don’t I reference the things that I have done, the “accomplishments” I have, all the “work” that I’ve put in to following God? Don’t I refer to the things that I perceive I’ve given up, the sacrifices I’ve made, the ways I’ve served and isn’t it really easy for me to attribute positive results to my own abilities or talents? My own preoccupation with being the “greatest” is evident whenever I feel slighted because I feel overlooked, or when I’m offended because I’m not recognized for something that I think I should be recognized for, or when I feel threatened or jealous of other people’s successes. When the disciples were arguing about what they’ve done, they probably forgot that it was Jesus who had given them the power and authority they had, not because of anything they had already done, but as an act of grace and as part of His invitation for them to follow Him. Instead of being humbled by how blessed or undeserving they were to be able to be following Jesus, and instead of marveling at the amazing work of God that had been done in the lives of the people they had met, the disciples resorted to these petty comparisons of each other. I see the same disconnection with reality in my own life – on what basis do I really have to argue that I am the greatest in anything? That I even get to be involved in God’s work at all, given my repeated and constant sinfulness, is an act of mercy; that I get to serve and somehow be used in God’s redemptive work of healing and casting out the demons and strongholds in people is amazing, that I’m in a church where we’re blessed to be able to see such tangible fruit of God’s work in people’s lives. In this context, my jockeying for “greatness” as compared to others is clearly foolish and really misses God’s heart.
· What kind of person will welcome a “little child”?
The type of person that would welcome a “little child” in Jesus’ name is someone characterized by humility. In those days, children weren’t treated with the type of attention that they often receive today, and they certainly would not have been the center of attention in families or societies in the way they are today. They may have been considered lesser people or perhaps, useless. Thus, someone who would stop to welcome a little child would have to stoop down to that child’s level, and this is a picture of what humility looks like. This type of person would welcome Jesus as well, because to believe and trust in Jesus’ words takes a great level of humility in light of Jesus’ assessment of the condition of man and our need to repent. I think a person who would welcome a “little child” also is someone who is not calculating. Often, I want to devote my attention and resources to those whom I perceive to be most useful, or the type of people who would be the most bang-for-my-buck, so to say–people who can return the favor or perhaps pay me back in some way. In those days especially, to devote one’s attention to a little child to welcome him would have been an other-centered act, because there’s really nothing a child could do for a person in return. This is a parallel to Jesus’ love for me, since I am like that child who can never pay back Jesus, but nonetheless Jesus welcomes me.
· None of these three men ended up following Jesus. What did they value?
None of these three men ended up following Jesus. The first man didn’t follow presumably because he was scared off by the fact that Jesus said He had no place to lay his head. The second man said he had to go and bury his father. The third man wanted to go back and say goodbye to his family. Home, duty, family–none of these are inherently bad things, and in fact devotion to these things are often considered quite admirable, but nonetheless it’s often these types of things that keep a person from following Jesus. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is very clear about what it means to follow him: “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Jesus’ first disciples understood this somehow, because Luke 5 highlights that they “left everything and followed him.”
These men who did not end up following Jesus were not willing to undergo the serious task of leaving behind everything to follow Jesus. What they valued instead were things often considered by many people to be the good and desirable things of life. It boils down to comfort. The comfort of knowing that everyday you would return back to the same home, same life, where at the end-of-the-day one’s problems and burdens are self-focused and rather narrow. The comfort of having a small corner of the world all marked out for one’s enjoyment. The comfort of having one’s sphere of concern being only one’s immediate or perhaps slightly-extended family. The comfort of a predictable life. None of these men were willing to surrender the seemingly predictable and comfortable lifestyle that everyone else in their world was living. And so, the cost of following Jesus–to leave everything behind–seemed way too high. In the end, despite their rhetoric and initial willingness to go, when the cost of following meant actual sacrifice and actually leaving behind, they considered it too high. I recognize myself in these men because, in the abstract, promising to follow God is easy. But when it actually means leaving behind and letting go of concrete things–specific worldly ambitions of mine, the cozy life I imagine or see depicted in the media or the world at-large–then the decision to follow is much harder.
· How does Jesus describe one who is unfit for the service in the kingdom of God? Are there ways in which I am “looking back”?
Jesus analogizes one who is unfit for service in the kingdom of God as one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back. I think there are many ways in which I “look back,” especially because of all my worries and anxieties. When I feel worried or anxious about the circumstances in my life, it’s tempting to look back and wonder what my life would have been like if I had not chosen to follow God. I wonder to myself: maybe I would have been more content, more at peace. Maybe if I devoted more time for myself and my own goals and advancement, I would have been further along in life and maybe I could have been a real somebody in this world. Maybe I could have reached my full “potential” in life. These thoughts are all ultimately very foolish and disconnected from reality, and I think ultimately very hurtful as well, like a
married man wondering if he could have lived a better life without his wife or with a different wife. I think this is why Jesus was so open and upfront about what it means to follow Him. Following Jesus is a total and whole commitment; it’s a vow to go with Jesus wherever He may lead, and so the heart that always looks back is not fit for service in the kingdom of God.
· Why does Jesus seem to discourage these men from following him?
I think Jesus seems to discourage these men from following him because he is being very realistic and forthright about the type of life that these men should expect if they were to follow Him. If they couldn’t even commit to following Jesus at this point, then what would happen when the day-to-day difficulties, persecutions, heartaches, and struggles of following Jesus came? Jesus says in John 15: “No servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also.” In Matthew 10, He says, “All me will hate you because of me…” From texts like this, Jesus is pretty clear that this type of hardship and difficulty is to be expected for all genuine followers. “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” To love people in the way Jesus loved them comes requires a person be willing to be disturbed, to be interrupted, to let go of one’s own agenda and preferred lifestyle, to have to sacrifice, to be hurt, to be rejected, and even persecuted. It requires a loose grasp on one’s life, and these men seemed to want to hold on to their lives and dictate for themselves what following Jesus would look like. “I will follow Jesus if I can still be comfortable and have a place to rest my head…if I can take care of my family the way that I want…“ Jesus didn’t give us this choice. Even though the men here expressed with their words some desire to follow Jesus, Jesus knew what truly following Him was going to look like. He couldn’t promise them the control over their own lives that they might have wanted and he couldn’t promise them that things would go the way they wanted. Their reluctance showed that they did not fully grasp what it meant to follow Jesus. By deciding not to follow though, their sphere of concern and influence would have been so small, and they would have missed out on so much, as evident by all that Jesus’ disciples were able to experience and be part of and the type of deep relationship they had with Jesus.