Category Archives: Luke

Luke 4:14-21; 20:20-26: Democracy

One of the great things about Australia is our DEMOCRATIC GOVERNMENT. Democracy is decision-making where everyone has a voice, or a vote. Its citizens CHOOSE the leaders they want to represent them. It’s different to other forms of government, where decision-making is restricted to one person, like a king or dictator, or to a small group of people.

We often don’t appreciate how GOOD our political system is. Much of the rest of the world wants to live in a Western democracy, like Australia. Or they want their country to change to be a Western democracy.

  1. Firstly, democracy brings POLITICAL STABILITY. Which we often take for granted. Just look at what’s happening in Hong Kong at the moment. In Australia we can peacefully protest about proposed government legislation. Voters can speak to their elected representatives, and can disagree with one another. Decisions can be made that we oppose. But there are no riots, or brutal armed retaliation.

Elections take place, and opposing supporters chat to one another outside polling stations as they hand out how-to-vote cards.

Government changes. One Prime Minister steps down, clears out his office, shakes hands with his opponent, and the next Prime Minister takes over. Government continues to operate.

John says it’s not like that in Ecuador. After an election, when the ruling party changes, everyone in government departments loses their jobs. And the country grinds to a halt for weeks.

And Ecuador is a PEACEFUL country. Imagine what happens after elections in countries where there’s CONFLICT!

  1. Secondly, we love our system because democracy brings FREEDOM. People are free to say what they like, believe what they like, and live where they like within limits. They can make a living in, just about, any legal way they like. We have a voice. Even the least wealthy or powerful.

And we love the way almost ANYONE can rise up to lead the country. You don’t need to be borne to it. Or have the fortune needed to bribe you way to power. If you’ve got the ABILITY, there’s a pathway for you to lead your country. That sort of freedom resonates with our sense of a fair go for everyone. And our passion for cheering for the underdog.

  1. What we value about democracy comes from Biblical teaching

But how does Christianity fit with democracy? It’s an interesting time to be a Christian in Australia. Because the last few years have seen moves from some parts of society to remove every trace of Christianity from public life. Scripture out of schools, prayer out of the opening of parliament. Churches out of public school halls. Removal of freedoms of religion and religious speech. The thinking is that anyone of religious faith needs to keep their opinions private.

And yet, the fact remains that there are many people of faith in public life. Perhaps they’re even over-represented in politics, compared with the general population. They obviously think that it’s part of their response to God to work for the good of society in public life.

And it’s not a recent thing either. The two great modern democracies, Britain and America, developed quite differently. But BOTH were strongly influenced, in different ways, by Christians, and Christian principles. Democratic values come from Biblical teaching.

First, Christianity says that this life isn’t all there is. We are eternal. And that means our behaviour matters. Justice MATTERS. Those who worked for democracy were motivated by a sense of JUSTICE, founded on the character of God.

Each of us will have to give an account for the choices we make. We’ll be judged by God. On the day he judged EVERYONE according to how they live.

Tyrants can impose their laws and do as they like, but ultimately they’ll be answerable to a HIGHER AUTHORITY. And the BEST leaders are those who recognise that. Democracy is a tool to maintain accountability and justice.

The SECOND thing Christianity teaches is connected to the idea of judgment. We’re ALL THOROUGHLY SINFUL. And that means no person, or group of people, can be trusted with power.

Democracy protects us from wicked leaders. It constrains and moderates sinful people by putting checks and balances in place.

CS Lewis wrote

I am a democrat [proponent of democracy] because I believe in the Fall of Man. I think most people are democrats for the opposite reason…  they thought mankind so wise and good that everyone deserved a share in the government.

The danger of defending democracy on those grounds is that they’re not true. . . . I find that they’re not true without looking further than myself. I don’t deserve a share in governing a hen-roost. Much less a nation. . . .

The real reason for democracy is just the reverse. Mankind is so fallen that no man can be trusted with unchecked power over his fellows. Aristotle said that some people were only fit to be slaves. I do not contradict him. But I reject slavery because I see no men fit to be masters.”

(Democracy is built on the notion that humanity is sinful, and leaders need checks and balances.)

The THIRD thing Christianity teaches is that, even though we’re all thoroughly sinful, God made EVERY PERSON IN HIS OWN IMAGE. That means everyone has value and dignity and basic rights. Everyone is worth protecting and listening to.

That truth motivated those, in many countries, who campaigned for the right to vote. It doesn’t matter how wealthy or important or privileged you are. Or what you’re sex or ethnicity. Everyone’s voice, and vote, is valuable.

Jesus taught and lived out that commitment to the inherent value of every person. In Luke 4, he went to the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth, v16. And he was given the scroll of Isaiah to read from. And the passage he chose was from Ch 61.

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

There’s a SPIRITUAL sense to those words. (Jesus was delivering SPIRITUAL prisoners, and healing SPIRITUAL blindness.) But he was also CHANGING SOCIETY. Relieving physical and emotional suffering. Healing blindness. Releasing the demon-oppressed. Declaring good news, and then bringing that to pass. And doing it for those who needed it most. Because everyone, ESPECIALLY the lowest in society matter.

And Christians, down through the ages, have imitated Jesus’ example. Democracy, at its core, is about giving a voice to EVERYONE, because EVERYONE MATTERS.

That’s my FIRST point. What we value about democracy comes from Biblical teaching. (justice, sin, and the value of everyone).

  1. Democracy is a good system within which the Christian can be a good citizen

The SECOND point I want to make is that democracy is a good system within which the Christian can be a good citizen.

I’m not saying that democracy is the most Christian political system around. But within a healthy democracy, Christians are free to make moral choices, and to influence society for the good.

That’s the reason Paul teaches we’re to PRAY for those in authority. 1 Timothy 2.

2:1 I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- 2 for kings and all those in authority, THAT WE MAY LIVE PEACEFUL AND QUIET LIVES IN ALL GODLINESS AND HOLINESS. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Savior, 4 who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Government that’s working well means Christians can live peaceful, quiet, godly lives. Which is God’s desire for EVERYONE.

Democracy’s not the only system that can PROVIDE that. But it seems to have been THE MOST EFFECTIVE in the last couple of hundred years. Christians have the freedom to be able to live and speak authentically as followers of Jesus. But what should that LOOK LIKE, PRACTICALLY?

In Luke 3:7-14 John the Baptist is preaching in the desert. And he says that people should produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And then he warns them that time is short,

9 The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.”

The crowd ask, What should we do then? And here’s his answer.

11 “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same.”

12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. “Teacher,” they asked, “what should we do?”

13 “Don’t collect any more than you are required to,” he told them.

14 Then some soldiers asked him, “And what should we do?”

He replied, “Don’t extort money and don’t accuse people falsely-be content with your pay.”

In other words, there are practical consequences if you have Christian faith. Repentance will LOOK LIKE something. Christian faith will make a difference in how you work. And how you spend money. And how you treat people. You’ll be generous. And fair. And compassionate. And content. Christians who obey John’s teaching here make good citizens. They contribute and make a difference to the people around them.  And our democracy is a good system that gives us FREEDOM to do these things. Taxes end up helping those who need it, rather than just making those who rule richer.

Both Paul and Peter teach, in their letters, that a Christian is to be a good citizen. In Romans 13:1, Paul writes,

13:1 Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

We obey earthly rulers because God’s set them in place. Down in v4 he says

4 For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.

God USES earthly authorities, even non-Christian authorities, to achieve his purposes – bringing justice and protecting the innocent.

Paul goes on to give some practical commands on what it LOOKS LIKE to obey earthly authorities. V6

6 This is also WHY YOU PAY TAXES, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. 8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

Fulfil your responsibilities as a member of society. But do even more. Go above and beyond the law of the land. LOVE our fellowman. And you can NEVER completely keep THAT command.

Peter teaches something similar in 1 Peter 2. V13.

13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

WHATEVER the authority, offer them your submission. From pool lifeguards, to parking officers, to soccer referees, to traffic controllers. All the way up to police officers, judges and prime ministers. Be humble, and peaceable and gentle.

And do it FOR THE LORD’S SAKE. In other words, because you’re being loyal to a HIGHER AUTHORITY. When you serve earthly authorities, you’re pleasing your HEAVENLY authority.

And have a look at v15. God’s purpose for your obedient submission.

15 For it is God’s will that by doing good YOU SHOULD SILENCE THE IGNORANT TALK OF FOOLISH MEN.

Christians have always had critics who’ve misunderstood them. Whether it was Jews and Romans in Peter’s time. Or politically-correct secular humanists today, intolerantly pushing tolerance.

But the way to cut the ground out from under your opponents is TO LOVE THEM. To be GENTLE in the face of their aggression. To be humble in the face of their pride. To be patient in the face of their ridicule. To listen, and question, and turn the other cheek.

The paragraph before explains it in more detail. 1 Peter 2 v11.

11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Yes, we’re to be the best citizens we can be. But at the same time, it’s a type of guerrilla warfare. Undercover resistance. You LOOK LIKE everyone else, but your first allegiance is with a DIFFERENT Master. And you’re working for a different purpose. God’s plan is that YOUR BEHAVIOUR is the ordinary means God uses to lead people to recognise and glorify God.

Your identity is NOT, primarily, AUSTRALIAN. Or Sydney-sider. Christians have DUAL PASSPORTS. We’re citizens of two kingdoms. One earthly, and one HEAVENLY. And where we CAN, we’re to be LOYAL TO BOTH.

But your fundamental identity is that you’re an alien in this world. A tourist. Your TRUE home is HEAVEN. God is your Father. It’s THAT NATURE you’re to reflect. Your FIRST loyalty is to that citizenship.

It’s that DUAL IDENTITY and DUAL LOYALTY Jesus describes in Luke 20. His critics were trying to trick him. V22. “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar?”

If he answered YES, he’d disappoint the people, who wanted freedom from the Roman oppressors. If he said NO, they’d have him arrested for treason.

V24, Jesus answers.

24 “Show me a denarius. Whose portrait and inscription are on it?” 25 “Caesar’s,” they replied. He said to them, “Then give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

Caesar has HIS image stamped on coins. So give him the coins that represent his authority. But our higher loyalty belongs to GOD. Why? Because we have HIS IMAGE stamped on us. We’re made in God’s image. We’re to give him OURSELVES. Our obedience and loyalty.

We’re to live out our God-given authority as image-bearers. To obediently, under God, rule and subdue the earth. Cultivating and creating. Protecting and nurturing it.

And our democracy, at least at the moment, gives us the freedom and the opportunities and the tools, to DO that.

We need more Christians in public life. In local and state and federal politics. On School P&F associations. And Chambers of Commerce. And boards of not-for-profits.

We need more Christians who write letters to the editor, and blogs, and contact their local members.

In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus described his followers as salt and light (Matthew 5:13). That’s what he wants his church to be in Australia in 2019.

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.

14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

Luke 7:36-8:3: Women and children

Did you know it’s only been legal for women to drive in Saudi Arabia for the last year or so? But it’s not just DRIVING. There are still strict legal guardianship rules about women making many basic decisions. They need the written permission of a male family member. We read stories like this and think we’re doing alright in Australia when it comes to the equality of women. But that would be a mistake. Just look at the under-representation of women in top executive roles, or on company boards Or talk to Leah Russell about the difficulty of professional women being paid the same amount as equally qualified men for the same work!

There may be improvements in SOME areas of equality for women. But in OTHER areas of Australian society, we’re actually getting WORSE. Like the objectification of women. (That is, devaluing and dehumanising them, treating them as objects, rather than people). It’s EVERYWHERE: in advertising, magazines, the internet, music videos, TV and movies.

Recent research from Victoria showed that sexualisation and objectification of women in advertising is INCREASING. And that it negatively impacts women’s health and wellbeing.

Another study by psychologists from Melbourne and Sydney Universities showed that men are more likely to become aggressive towards women who reject them/ if the women are sexually objectified.

And that’s ANOTHER area where Australian society needs to hang its head in shame. The widespread occurrence of sexual violence. It might just be catcalls and wolf whistles. It might be unwanted propositions. It might be physical attack. It might be domestic violence.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports, from the 2017 census, that the percentage of Australian women who’ve experienced sexual violence and/or threats since the age of 15 is… (guess) 1 in 5! And 1 in 4 women have experienced EMOTIONAL abuse from a current or former partner.

In the UK a Guardian newspaper poll in 2016 reported that 52% women in Britain had experienced unwanted attention in workplace. And a Telegraph poll in 2015 reported that 34% of University student women had experienced sexual assault or assault!

And then there’s the effect all this has on CHILDREN. (as witnesses or victims of domestic or sexual violence.) Or the way girls grow up and SELF-OBJECTIFY. In other words, they see THEMSELVES as an object. Which can lead to body image issues, appearance anxiety, sexual promiscuity, and eating disorders.

Or what about the current issue? Abortion. The PRO-CHOICE website Children By Choice quotes the following statistics: Half of all pregnancies in Australia are unplanned, and HALF of THOSE are terminated. Between one quarter and one third of Australian women will abort a baby in their lifetime. Although difficult to calculate, it’s generally accepted that, IN QUEENSLAND ALONE, somewhere between 10,000 and 14,000 abortions take place each year.[1]

As Christians, this stuff should MAKE US WEEP. And it should SHAME us, as a society.

You might think that’s an interesting introduction to a series called “LEGACY: How Jesus has changed the world.” Especially when today’s topic is “Women and children.” You might wonder precisely whether Jesus HAS made any difference in our society with regards to how we treat women and children. You might, quite rightly, argue that the church HASN’T DONE ENOUGH in speaking and working against this inequality and mistreatment and abuse. In fact, you could, quite RIGHTLY, point out that members of the church have been PERPETRATORS. There’s stuff we need to repent of. And stuff we need to do better in the future.

But what I want to do today is FOCUS ON JESUS. And look at HIS treatment of women and children. Highlight how COUNTER-CULTURAL he was for HIS day. As well as in OUR day. And then to imagine what it might look like if WE were serious about treating women and children the same way JESUS did.

Thinking about Jesus’ time, the Rabbinic sources describe a society where women couldn’t testify in court. Most women were illiterate since only MEN were permitted to learn the Hebrew Scriptures. Women were confined to the women’s court of the temple – even though there’s no such thing described in Solomon’s Temple.

And, in general, they were excluded from business life. A contemporary writer, Ben Sirach, describes the cultural attitude towards working women: “Bad temper, insolence and shame hold sway when the wife supports the husband.” (25:22)

One Talmudic passage sums up the situation of women at the time of Christ: “(They are) swathed like a mourner (referring to the face and hair coverings), isolated from people, and shut up in prison” (Eruvin 100b).

What’s interesting is that, in a few places in the Gospels, we can see these attitudes in Jesus’ disciples. For example, in Matthew 15:22 a Canaanite mother is crying out to Jesus for him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus doesn’t answer her. The disciples get a bit tired of the noise. They come to Jesus and encourage him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” They want to dismiss her. But, instead, Jesus receives her, values her faith, and heals her daughter.

Or John 4. Jesus is talking to the Samaritan woman at the well. The disciples return from town with lunch. And, v27, they’re surprised to find him talking with a woman. But no one asked, “What do you want?” or “Why are you talking with her?” But it was to THIS WOMAN Jesus revealed some of his clearest teaching about his identity. That he’s the Messiah, and that he offers eternal life.

Or what about their attitude to CHILDREN? Mark 10:13-16 People were bringing little children to Jesus to have him touch them, but THE DISCIPLES REBUKED THEM. For the disciples, and for Jewish society in general, women and children were insignificant, non-contributing and therefore not valuable.

And it was even WORSE in contemporary Roman society, and Greek society before that. Which we don’t have time to go into.

But it’s into THAT situation Jesus comes with a COMPLETELY COUNTER-CULTURAL ATTITUDE to women and children. An attitude based on the truth of Genesis 1:27. That God created humanity in his image, MALE AND FEMALE. Everyone with value and worth and dignity. Male or female, young or old. Powerful or helpless.

In Mark 5, an unclean woman suffering chronic bleeding sneaks up in a crowd, and touches him. And, instead of rebuking her, he heals and blesses and restores her.

In Lk 10:38 Jesus visits the home of Mary and Martha. Mary is sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening and learning as Jesus teaches. When Martha complains about her not helping in the kitchen, Jesus insists that Mary has chosen what’s BETTER. What’s extraordinary about that/ is that to be a Rabbi’s student was STRICTLY FOR MEN. And yet Jesus WELCOMES her, and TEACHES her. Along with the rest.

But it’s not just MARY. Luke 8:2 describe various women among Jesus’ disciples. They’d been healed of diseases of evil spirits. They travelled with him, along with the 12. They learned from him, and even helped support him financially.

And they KEEP following him. Apart from the Apostle John, it’s WOMEN at the foot of the cross. It’s WOMEN who hear the seven sayings of Jesus from the cross. And pass on what they heard, so we can read about it. It’s WOMEN who come to the tomb, and are the first eyewitnesses to the resurrection. It’s Mary Jesus appears to first in the garden. And women who declare what they’ve seen to the Apostles. All of that just reflects how Jesus welcomed them and accepted them. And how committed to him they were.

When it comes to his TEACHING, Jesus makes women the subject of various parables. The woman searching for her lost coin (Luke 15). Or the persistent widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18. Or the ten virgins in Mt 25 waiting for the bridegroom. Or the woman mixing yeast into dough in Mt 13.

And he DEFENDED women in his teaching about divorce and adultery. At a time when husbands could divorce their wives quickly and easily. And wives had no rights, and no means of financial support available to them. In Matthew 19, he taught that a man who divorced his wife and re-married (except on the grounds of adultery) was actually committing adultery HIMSELF. He strengthened the boundaries around marriage. For the protection of women.

And in Mt 5, rather than objectify women, and blame them for leading men astray, he places the responsibility squarely on men’s self-control. “Anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” It’s the HEART that’s the problem, not the way a woman looks.

Or one last passage to do with women: the passage we read earlier. Luke 7:36, (turn there with me.) Jesus is having dinner with Simon the Pharisee. A woman who’d lived a sinful life hears that Jesus is there, so she drops in unannounced, with a gift of expensive perfume. Most respectable Rabbis would have just sent her away. But look at v38, as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears.

It reads like she hadn’t planned it. Perhaps she’s just listening as Jesus talks. Then the tears start. Probably firstly from GUILT, as she recognises her own sin. But then, as she understands what Jesus is offering, they become tears of GRATITUDE AND JOY.

When she realises she’s making a mess. She looks around for something to clean up with. But the only thing she can think of is her hair. So she wipes his feet with her hair, then kisses them and pours the perfume on them.

It’s a physically-intimate, and awkward. action. Especially given her reputation. I know if I’d been in Jesus’ position, I’d have felt embarrassed. It certainly seems to have made SIMON uncomfortable. V39. He said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is-that she is a sinner.”

But rather than rebuke the woman and send her away. Rather than focus on her HISTORY. Jesus focusses on her REPENTANCE and LOVE.

He DEFENDS her, and tells Simon a story. V41. Two men owe money. One owes 500 denarii, the other only 50. Neither can pay, so the money-lender forgives both their debts. Jesus finishes by asking Simon a question, “Which of them will love him MORE?” The answer’s obvious. The one FORGIVEN the most/ will love the MOST.

You’re right, says Jesus. Then, v44, he connects Simon and the woman/ to the two debtors in the story. Simon feels he has little that needs forgiving, so he LOVES little. He hasn’t washed Jesus’ feet or kissed him, or anointed his head with oil. But the woman, whose many sins have been forgiven, LOVES MUCH. And Jesus welcomes and forgives and blesses her. It’s her FAITH and REPENTANCE and LOVE he rewards. Not her reputation, or her past sins.

I want to read you a quote from Dorothy Sayers. She was one of the first female graduates of Oxford in 1915. She battled hard for equality for women. She was educated at a time when women could study, but weren’t awarded degrees. She went on to become a well-known novelist and poet.

In a letter to the Bishop of Coventry, she described Jesus’ attitude to women.

“Alone among teachers and founders of religion, he did and said nothing special about them. He never said they were tempters. or snares, or weaklings, or imbeciles, or inspirations, or angels: he never mapped out a special sphere of duties for them, or told people to keep clear of them or shut them up; when they asked him intelligent questions he replied seriously and intelligibly, and when Martha wanted to hike Mary off on the ground that women’s place was in the kitchen He told her to leave her alone; He never patronised, or condescended, or scolded. or nagged at women for being women, or turned shy or silly or self-conscious or superior on them, and not one teaching or parable of his ever turns on funny stuff about wives or horrid warnings about women; you could read the whole Gospel from end to end without learning from it that there was anything peculiar about women, or that mankind was divided into two sections… You don’t realise, perhaps, how extraordinary that it is. It’s unparalleled. There has been nothing like it before or since. There has certainly never been anything like it in Christ’s Church.” (Sayers to the Bishop of Coventry. Letters of Dorothy Sayer, Vol 3, 28)

Which is quite a bold thing to say to a Bishop, I would have thought!

And then there’s Jesus’ attitude to CHILDREN. Overlooked and insignificant and unimportant. But, for Jesus, they MATTER. Because GOD is always the defender of the weak. And protector of the powerless. (Like we saw in Psalm 146. The Creator who cares for his creatures.)

In Mark 10, people are bringing their children to Jesus to have him BLESS them, v13. But the disciples decide Jesus has MORE IMPORTANT things to be doing. (Children don’t count. They can’t contribute). So, they rebuke the parents. But look at Jesus’ reaction. V14. When Jesus saw this, he was indignant. He said to them, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.

Powerless, trusting, humble children are the PERFECT type of disciple. In fact, they’re MODEL DISCIPLES. V15. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.” 16 And he took the children in his arms, put his hands on them and blessed them.

He WELCOMES and REJOICES in them. But he also DEFENDS them. In the previous chapter, the disciples are arguing about who’s the greatest. So, as an object lesson, v36, Jesus shows them a child, and encourages them TO WELCOME LITTLE CHILDREN. Do that, says Jesus, and you’re actually doing something that’s just about the most important thing you can do. It’s the same as welcoming Jesus, or the One who sent him.

And then a few verses further on, in v42, he says

42 “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to stumble, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck.

Jesus defends and values children. And down through history, it’s often the Christian CHURCH that’s done the same. Christians have taken the lead, and pushed the boundaries. They’ve educated kids. And run orphanages. And adoption agencies. And child sponsorship organisations.

The reason NSW has school Scripture classes locked in the state Education Act is because it used to be THE CHURCH who ran ALL SCHOOLS. And when the NSW government got organised enough to run schools, they legislated for Christian churches to CONTINUE to have access to children to teach them the Christian faith.

Now, our record isn’t PERFECT. There’s been times in the history of Christian institutions where we haven’t protected and loved kids the way we should. There’s things we need to repent of. And we need to keep working to make sure we do better. We need to love and care for them the way JESUS did.

Jesus searched out the LEAST and the LOST and the LAST. And that included women and children. And he defended them. And cared for them. And LOVED them. Where are those people FOR US, in ASHFIELD? The vulnerable ones?

We need to stand up for the rights of the unborn. But we also need to be, sacrificially and messily, loving PREGNANT MUMS. And supporting and enabling and equipping them to be able to make REAL CHOICES. Jesus calls us to love unborn babies AND mums.

Have you ever thought about FOSTERING a child? There are amazing stories about churches where significant numbers of people foster needy kids

Or what about trafficking and slavery? Some of you know that Karine helps run a SIM organisation called “For Freedom”. It helps churches work out what they can do to help PREVENT slavery and trafficking from happening. Don’t assume it only happens in third world countries. It’s almost certainly happening here in Ashfield! In massage parlours, or brothels, or nail clinics or restaurants.

Who are those at risk? Those without enough work? Or enough English? How can we equip them with the tools to stand, and to steer clear of these traps?

It won’t be EASY. But it’s the response Jesus calls us to. It’s the type of costly response that should flow from knowing you’ve been FORGIVEN A GREAT DEBT. Just like the sinful woman. A response that flows from the joy and gratitude of knowing you’re LOVED and ACCEPTED by Jesus. And you want OTHERS to know the same.

But where do you start? It’s almost paralysing when we think about the size of the problem.

But perhaps the approach should be like Jesus. How did Jesus do it? One person at a time. He loved the person who was in front of him. So pray that you’ll SEE the person in front of you. And then pray that you’ll have the LOVE of Jesus, and the WISDOM of Jesus, to help that person. For HIS honour and glory.

 

 

[1] https://www.childrenbychoice.org.au/factsandfigures/australian-abortion-statistics

 

Luke 23:34-43: Between Death and Resurrection

Daniel loves travelling. A couple of years ago it was Asia. This year, it was New Zealand in the middle of winter. In a campervan. On the icy roads. Walking and skiing on snow-covered mountains.

And he dropped his phone in water, and was out of contact for days at a time.

But he made it home safely. And now he’s thinking about Canada – ALSO in winter.

He LOVES it. But it’s a different matter for Caron. She can’t help imagining all the things that might go wrong.

But as long as she gets an Instagram post every couple of days with a photo of a mountain or a burger or a coffee, she’s happy.

It’s not unusual, is it? We just want to know that our family members are alright. We may not be able to SEE them, or TALK to them, but we want to know that they’re SAFE. Trusting that God’s looking after them.

And it’s this same concern that’s at the heart of the topic we’re thinking about today.

We started our series on ETERNITY last week. Looking at DEATH. This week, we’re looking at what comes NEXT. Answering the question, “What happens AFTER we die?

And it becomes important for people when a loved one dies. Suddenly the theology and the theories become a lot more significant. More REAL. “Where’s mum NOW? Right now? Is she alright? I just want to know she’s OKAY.”

We’re thinking about the time between death and judgment day. Most of us are a bit clearer about what will happen when Jesus returns. For those of us who are Christians, we’ll be resurrected and will live with Christ forever. BUT WHAT ABOUT IN-BETWEEN? Until then? What happens to a Christian THE MOMENT THEY DIE?

We’re going to focus on one passage. Jesus and the thief on the cross. And we’ll answer three questions about what happens to people who die. WHEN, WHO, and WHERE? And then we’ll consider ONE MORE QUESTION. What it all means for us now? SO?

We’re looking at Luke 23 v32. It’s the hours before Jesus’ death. The morning of Good Friday. And there are two criminals executed with him. One on his right, one on his left. And (v39)

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

(Joining in with the rest of the crowd. Ridiculing Jesus.) But the guy on the other side of Jesus was different.

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

It’s a request that offers nothing. There’s no, “get me out of this mess, and I’ll try harder next time.” “Help me out, and I promise to be a good boy.” There’s nothing he CAN contribute, beyond the plea, “Remember me!”

And Jesus’ response gets to the heart of the issue we’re considering today. It gave comfort to THE CRIMINAL. And it’s given comfort to COUNTLESS MILLIONS SINCE. Have a look at it. V43. A wonderful promise

43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

It’s an audacious (a bold) claim. The sort of claim a LUNATIC makes. Or else a RELIGIOUS CON ARTIST… Or there’s a THIRD option. That Jesus has been given authority by God himself. The authority over life and death that means that, within a few short hours, HE’LL be in paradise. But more than that, he has God’s authority to judge who ELSE is worthy of paradise. And then the authority to make sure it happens. “I tell you the truth, today YOU will be WITH ME in paradise.”

Let’s look at that promise in three parts: Today – which answers the question WHEN. You – which answers WHO. And with me in paradise – which answers “WHERE”.

When? “Today…”

Firstly, TODAY. Jesus promises that paradise begins for this thief TODAY. The moment he DIES.

Which speaks against the theory of SOUL SLEEP. Some Christians notice that the Bible sometimes talks about death as SLEEP. And so they say that between now and judgment, believers who die go into a state of UNCONSCIOUS EXISTENCE. Like sleeping, or anaesthesia. The next thing they’ll realise after dying will be waking up on judgment day.

But Jesus doesn’t say, “You’ll die, then 1000 years later, you’ll wake up in paradise, and it will SEEM like it’s today. No! He says, “TODAY you’ll be with me in paradise”.

And there are other parts of the Bible that talk about believers who’ve died who are CONSCIOUS of things happening on earth. Like the story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus. It’s Luke 16 v19. A rich man dies and goes to hell. The word is Hades.

And there’s a poor beggar called Lazarus who ALSO dies, and goes to be WITH GOD. V22 describes it as going to Abraham’s side.

In v23 the rich man’s in torment. He can see Abraham and Lazarus a long way away. And he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue because he’s in agony in fire.

But Abraham replies that there’s no way to cross between the two places, between Hades and Heaven, because there’s a great chasm between them.

So the rich man, instead, begs Abraham to send Lazarus to at least warn his brothers about the torture of hell. But the answer is that they already HAVE all the warnings God intends.

There are a few things this story teaches. One, this is set BEFORE JUDGMENT DAY. Notice the rich man’s brothers are STILL LIVING. And he wants to warn them before it’s too late. Before judgment.

Second. The dead are CONSCIOUS. They’re not sleeping. The rich man can see heaven, and perhaps even see his brothers on earth. Even if he can’t communicate with them.

So, whatever happens to people when they die, it doesn’t seem to be DELAYED until judgment day. As soon as they die, they’re either with Christ in heaven (or by Abraham’s side in this story). Or they’re in hell, or Hades.

And third, there’s no way to move between Hades and Abraham’s side. There’s a great chasm between them. No way across. Which is NOT what the Catholic church teaches about PURGATORY.

Purgatory is like a holding bay. A waiting room. Neither heaven nor Hades. You can INFLUENCE the fate of your loved ones by winning indulgences for them. Or praying for them. They can get a shorter time in purgatory, and then move into heaven.

But there’s none of that here. And it’s nowhere else in the Bible either.

That’s the FIRST question. WHEN?

Who? “You…”

The second question Jesus answers is WHO. Today YOU will be with me in paradise. One thief WITH Jesus. The other, we presume, WASN’T. On the surface, they’d lived a similar life.

What had THIS ONE done to receive a promise like this?

This was the thief who, firstly, RECOGNISED HIS OWN STATE. He said, “We are being punished JUSTLY.” He saw he was a sinner with nothing to offer God. A sinner who’d lived ignoring him, doing his own thing.

Secondly, he recognised who JESUS was. He said, “This man has DONE NOTHING WRONG.” And “Remember me when you come in your KINGDOM.”

In the final hours of his life, he recognised who Jesus was. The perfect innocent king. The one who’d bring in a KINGDOM with POWER. A kingdom the thief wanted to be part of.

Nothing to do with having lived a good life. (Being nice to people). And with no chance of being able to do it in the future.

THIS is who Jesus makes that promise to. People who see THEMSELVES clearly. And JESUS clearly. And throw themselves at the MERCY of that perfect king. Is that something YOU’VE done?

But let’s get more specific. When we say THE THIEF would be in paradise with Jesus that day. What do we mean? Not his BODY. That would still be hanging on a cross, or in a tomb. No, we mean his SOUL, or his Spirit. Who he was.

Because a body is not who YOU are. Whatever it is that makes you, YOU, it’s not your body.

When you go to a funeral, it’s not your loved one in that coffin. It’s only their BODY. Your mum or your uncle or your wife, they’ve GONE. And it’s only the shell that’s left behind.

It’s spirits, or souls, that the Bible talks about. Like Hebrews 12:22-23. Talking about heaven, it says

22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, TO THE SPIRITS OF RIGHTEOUS MEN MADE PERFECT

And in Revelation 6:9-11, John describes a vision he has of something going on in heaven NOW.

9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the SOULS OF THOSE WHO HAD BEEN SLAIN because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “HOW LONG, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you JUDGE the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to WAIT A LITTLE LONGER, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as THEY had been/ was completed.

These are Christians who’ve been martyred. With God in heaven, but crying out for justice. It’s their SOULS, and they’re CONSCIOUS.

There’s one other passage we can look at as we think about exactly WHAT will be with Christ in paradise. It’s 2 Corinthians 5. Paul’s talking about his PHYSICAL body, and his eternal RESURRECTION body. One BEFORE he dies. And the OTHER after the resurrection. But he also talks about A THIRD state. In between the two bodies. 2 Corinthians 5 v1.

5:1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in (that’s our PHYSICAL BODY) is destroyed (in other words, we DIE), we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands (that’s our ETERNAL RESURRECTION BODY).

Two different bodies. Like the difference between a TENT and a HOUSE.

And notice that you LIVE in your body. It’s not that your body IS you. You INHABIT your body. Like a tent.

Then he switches to talking about bodies like CLOTHES. But it’s the same idea. V2.

2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found NAKED. 4 For while we are in THIS TENT, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be UNCLOTHED but to be CLOTHED WITH OUR HEAVENLY DWELLING, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.

Did you NOTICE? You can be clothed with your EARTHLY clothes. (That’s in THIS life). And you can be clothed with your HEAVENLY clothes. (That’s at judgment day. At the resurrection.) But there’s an IN BETWEEN state. Being UNCLOTHED. Naked. Not having a body. Which I take to mean when you’re DEAD. In between death and judgment.

To be with Christ in Paradise NOW is GOOD. There’s rest and comfort and peace. But it’s like being NAKED. It’s your SOUL. Your Spirit. And not, yet, your resurrection body. The body you were DESIGNED for. V5

(I long to be clothed with my heavenly dwelling) 5 Now it is God who HAS MADE US FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

That’s our GOAL. Our FUTURE. With God, with our resurrection bodies. And God’s Spirit living with us is the down payment of that experience.

(pause) That’s the SECOND question. WHO? The Bible’s answer is for those who recognise Jesus, when they die, that very day, they’ll be in Paradise. But not in body – their soul or spirit.

Where? “…With me in paradise”

Third question. WHERE? Where will we be when we die? Jesus’ answer? With me, in paradise.

We can experience SOMETHING of the closeness and intimacy with Jesus NOW. Through his Spirit, we’re UNITED with Christ. But when we die, his promise is that we’ll be WITH him. No separation, no barriers, no sin. Paradise.

Paul goes on in 2 Corinthians 5 to describe what sort of attitude that reality produces in him NOW. V6.

6 Therefore we are always CONFIDENT and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would PREFER TO BE AWAY FROM THE BODY AND AT HOME WITH THE LORD.

Longing to be at home with the Lord. What you were MADE for. So, it’s no wonder Paul PREFERS to be AT HOME WITH THE LORD.

Which brings us back to the question we began with. When a loved one dies, we just want to know they’re alright. And the Bible’s answer is/ if they belong to Jesus then they’re AT HOME. With the Lord.

That’s the safest place to be. AT HOME.

The Westminster Confession has an answer for this question. And it sums up the Bible evidence nicely. And is very comforting as well.

  1. The BODIES of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption; but their SOULS (which neither die nor sleep), having an immortal subsistence, IMMEDIATELY return to God who gave them. The souls of the RIGHTEOUS, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their BODIES; and the souls of the WICKED are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Besides these two places for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.

So? 2 Cor 5:5-10

That’s the WHO, and WHEN, and WHERE. The last question is SO? What difference should this make to you and me TODAY?

Look at how Paul concludes in 2 Corinthians 5. v9. He’s confident that he belongs to Jesus. And he’s confident about the reality of eternity. V7 He lives by FAITH, not by SIGHT.

Then he gets to v9. What does this all mean for TODAY?

9 So we MAKE IT OUR GOAL TO PLEASE HIM, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.

If that’s the REWARD for those who are in Christ. Then make it your goal to PLEASE HIM. Because JUDGMENT is waiting for everyone.

Your purpose in life? PLEASE Christ.

Number one priority? Please Christ.

Your major motivation? To please Christ.

And do it with the CONFIDENCE that comes because it’s CHRIST who’s EARNED your salvation FOR you.

Is that what YOUR life looks like?

And when someone asks you if their loved one who’s died is ALRIGHT? (If they’re SAFE.)

Explain what it means to be at home with the Lord. And who can GET there. But then ask them, “So… that’s your grandma. But what about YOU? Are you making it your GOAL to please Christ? That’s what REALLY matters.”

Luke 21: Signs of the times

It’s important to keep things in perspective. To see the big picture. Our frangipani tree looks dead at the moment. But spring is here, which means that leaves and flowers are coming. It would be a mistake to cut it down because it looks dead.

Or the stock market. Shares goes up and down daily. And most beginners, apparently, sell too QUICKLY. The share price drops and they’re scared they’ll LOSE. But it’s important to KEEP THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE. Over a longer period of time most good stocks will increase in value. GOOD advice says to be patient, and don’t panic-sell when there’s a dip.

Or the footy finals. It’s all very well for your team to be winning matches HALFWAY THROUGH the SEASON. But you don’t win the premiership for HALF A SEASON. You have to play well RIGHT TO THE END.

It’s important to keep things in perspective.

And that’s one of the main lessons Jesus is teaching his disciples, and us, here in Luke 21.

V5, the disciples notice how impressive the temple is. In particular the intricate stonework and the decorative gifts – maybe tapestries or golden sculptures.

This is Herod the Great’s temple. In Jesus’ time, it’s in the middle of a major renovation and extension. It BEGAN as small and unimpressive when Ezra returned from exile to supervise its rebuilding. But in 19BC Herod the Great began a renovation and extension. Fifty years later, work’s still going on. But it must have still been pretty impressive.

The Jewish historian Josephus writes, “The exterior of the building lacked nothing that could astonish the soul or the eyes. The exterior, being covered on every side with massive plates of gold, the sun had no sooner risen than it radiated so fiery a flash that those straining to look at it were forced to avert their eyes as from the solar rays…. Whatever was not overlain with gold was purest white.”

No wonder the disciples are impressed!

But look at Jesus’ response. V6.

As for what you see here, the time will come when not one stone will be left on another; every one of them will be thrown down.”

It’s an extraordinary answer. Completely against the mood of the crowd. With everyone else in awe of the temple’s beauty, and how impressive its construction is.

But Jesus is KEEPING THINGS IN PERSPECTIVE. And he wants the disciples to do the same.

If we look at what’s happened in the last couple of chapters, perhaps his reaction isn’t so surprising.

Back in 19:39, Jesus enters Jerusalem, and the crowd cheers. Praising God that the king has come. But the Pharisees want Jesus to REBUKE them. It’s nothing to CELEBRATE according to them. Then in 19:41, Jesus weeps that Jerusalem hasn’t recognised him, and that it will be destroyed. He says

“If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace-but now it is hidden from your eyes. 43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

Then, in 19:45 he clears the temple because it’s A DEN OF ROBBERS. Rather than a house of prayer.

20:1 Chief priests and teachers question his authority.

20:9 Jesus tells the parable about the murderous tenants.

20:19 In response, the teachers and chief priests look for a way to MURDER him.

Then, in 20:46, Jesus warns the people of the teachers who DEVOUR WIDOW’S HOUSES. They will be punished most severely.

And finally, in 21:1-4, he sees ONE of those widows putting ALL SHE HAD TO LIVE ON into the temple treasury. She’s in POVERTY.

And THAT’S when the disciples remark how beautiful the temple is. How SOLID and WELL-MADE it is.

How would you feel if you were Jesus?… Rather than being IMPRESSED, it’s the OPPOSITE. He wants the disciples to see the bigger picture. To keep things in perspective.

It’s like these luxury apartments. In Brazil and Mexico. They look like LOVELY places to live, until you see the bigger picture. And see that they’re built in the middle of slums. And you realise there’s something rotten in THE SOCIETY AS A WHOLE. If it can put such wealth and privilege next to such poverty. And NOT EVEN NOTICE.

And that’s what Jesus sees. There’s something rotten at the core of Jewish society, and its LEADERSHIP. And it’s focussed around THE TEMPLE. He can’t appreciate the beautiful temple, because all he can see is what’s rotten at the core. And the judgment that’s COMING.

And we need to see THIS world with the same perspective. We see companies that are successful, governments that are powerful, wealth that’s attractive, military forces that are scary, beauty that’s distracting, friends who have everything, media that’s influential, and intellectuals who intimidate. And we’re OVERAWED. We’re IMPRESSED. We think they’ll last forever. And can’t be challenged or defeated. We think we can’t compare.

But Jesus looks at this world that rejects him. The world that ridicules his people, denies his authority, and despises his goodness and his claim on it. And he SEES THE BIG PICTURE. It’s not powerful and immovable. It’s headed for JUDGMENT.

And it’s JESUS who’s powerful and immovable.

Back in Ch 20, at the end of the parable of the tenants. He’s described the owner of the vineyard who comes and kills the tenants who’ve killed his son. The hearers are shocked. And Jesus replies, 20:17, “The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone… And everyone who falls on that stone WILL BE BROKEN TO PIECES.”

And the FIRST fulfilment of that/ is that the temple will be completely destroyed.

The temple that’s being destroyed

For the disciples, it’s almost impossible to imagine. That stones up to 20m long and 2m high will be thrown down. And they ask the obvious questions, v7, “When? And what will be the sign that it’s about to take place?”

And so THEY’RE THE QUESTIONS JESUS GOES ON TO ANSWER. It’s important to REMEMBER that, because every Christian since those first disciples has been confused by Jesus’ answer. Is he talking about the temple being destroyed? Or about the end of the world?

And at least PART of the solution is that it’s quite likely the disciples PUT THE TWO TOGETHER. (The destruction of the temple AND the end of the world).

In their minds, the temple was SO solid, and their confidence in God’s plan for Israel was so strong, the only time the TEMPLE would be destroyed would be if EVERYTHING ELSE was being destroyed AT THE SAME TIME. In other words, “destruction of the temple EQUALS end of the world.”

(In Matthew’s version of this conversation, they ask the questions, “When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the end of the age?)

And so it seems like Jesus’ answer is a COMBINATION of those two events. The destruction of the temple – which was in AD70. (Which is HISTORY for US). And Christ’s return (which is still to come.)

First up, v8-9 – what WON’T be signs of the temple’s destruction. There’ll be imposters coming saying I’m the Messiah. But don’t listen to them. THAT’S not a sign.

And you’ll hear of wars and revolutions. But THAT’S not a sign, either. Because those things will happen FIRST.

But THE END won’t come RIGHT AWAY. (There’ll be A DELAY.) When the end DOES come – you’ll KNOW. I think v10-11 describes THE END. Great wars, earthquakes, famines, and plagues. And to top it off, great signs from heaven. THEY’RE the signs to look for.

You want to know what the signs will be? When the end COMES, you’ll KNOW IT!

Then, v12, Jesus says, “There are more IMMEDIATE concerns. “But BEFORE ALL THIS…”

And he describes the sort of things we see in the book of Acts. Within months of Jesus’ death. The apostles arrested and imprisoned. And brought before synagogue rulers and kings and governors.

But at the same time, God’s got a PURPOSE in it. They’ll testify about Jesus. That’s the way God’s kingdom will grow. And Jesus adds the comforting promise. They won’t be powerless, or on their own. V14

14 But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. 15 For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict.

That’s keeping things in perspective. It might seem like the enemies have the upper hand, but the disciples will have power that can’t be resisted!

He goes on, v16. It will get even WORSE. Not just external persecution. Your OWN FAMILIES will betray you. And some of you will even be KILLED. And you’ll be HATED BY EVERYONE.

But look at the PROMISE that goes WITH the bad news. V18-19.

18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By standing firm you will GAIN LIFE.

But how does that work? How can they gain LIFE and not a hair of their head perish/ if they’re PUT TO DEATH? It’s a promise that God will keep them ETERNALLY safe- even if they DIE. Nothing that happens on EARTH will affect their ETERNAL security.

In other words, there are WORSE things that can happen to you than being killed! THAT’S keeping things in perspective!

And what the disciples need to do as all these terrible things are happening around them / is to STAND FIRM. To keep trusting God’s promises. Not worry. And witness to Jesus. That’s the way to be kept secure.

Then, in v20-24, Jesus most clearly addresses the question of the signs that the temple is about to be destroyed.

20 “When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near.

That’s the sign. And when you SEE it, here’s some advice, v21. Get out of town. Flee to the mountains. Normally, the safest place is behind the city walls. But not in THIS case.

Jesus continues, v23

23 How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. 24 They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations.

And, tragically, it all came TRUE. April, AD70, the Roman emperor Vespasian sent his son, Titus, with a large army to lay siege to Jerusalem. The city was full of Passover pilgrims. After a dreadful siege of five months, the city fell. Men, women and children were murdered in their hundreds of thousands. The temple, and nearly the whole city, was burned to the ground. Only a few towers, and part of the western wall, were left.

But that won’t be the end of everything – like the DISCIPLES thought. Notice what Jesus says at the end of v24.

Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles UNTIL THE TIMES OF THE GENTILES ARE FULFILLED.

After the destruction of the temple, there’ll be a period of time – the time of the GENTILES. That’s the time we’re in NOW.

The king who’s coming

And then, from v25, Jesus jumps to the end of THAT period. Once the time of the Gentiles is over, there’ll be signs THEN, TOO.

25 “There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.

For most people, it will be TERRIFYING. And then the greatest sign of all.

27 At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.

This is Jesus returning as king to judge. And to resurrect his people to himself. Just like Daniel 7 predicted.

Most people might be TERRIFIED on that day. But not those who belong to Jesus. V28.

28 When these things begin to take place, stand up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

And that’s the ultimate event to keep things in perspective. We don’t need to be confused, or afraid.

There are lots of things about the future we DON’T know. But this is CERTAIN. See what he says in v33? “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will NEVER pass away”. Jesus IS coming with power and great glory. So we can STAND UP. And eagerly look forward to King Jesus. Because it will be a GREAT day for those who belong to him. We don’t want to MISS OUT.

And that means, PRACTICALLY, we’re to ACT DIFFERENTLY TO THOSE AROUND US. Look at what Jesus says down in v34.

34 “Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.

In other words, don’t get DISTRACTED BY LIFE. Dissipation is about a WASTED life. Focussing on minor, insignificant, pointless, temporary things. Mistaking fashion and recreation and pleasure and education and houses and family as if they’re all that matters – as if they’re the END GOAL.

They’re IMPORTANT, but not ULTIMATE. Don’t be so distracted by them you forget about what’s ULTIMATE.

That’s keeping things in perspective.

The temple that’s being built

The OLD temple has gone. Found guilty and judged by God. But that doesn’t mean God’s PEOPLE are gone. Or God’s PLANS are defeated. Where ONE temple is destroyed, Jesus is REPLACING it with ANOTHER temple.

In Ephesians 2:19 we read about how both Jew and Gentile are God’s people, members of God’s HOUSEHOLD.

20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the WHOLE BUILDING is joined together and RISES to become A HOLY TEMPLE IN THE LORD. 22 And in him you too are being BUILT TOGETHER to become A DWELLING in which God lives by his Spirit.

WE are the temple God is building. God lives in us by his Spirit. We’re joined to each other and we’re joined to God. And we’re GROWING.

It’s not EARTHLY institutions that will last. In the end, they’ll ALL fall before Jesus.

News out of China is that authorities are clamping down on unofficial churches, imprisoning pastors and expelling missionaries. But the reality is CHINA won’t stand.

Muslim persecution of Christians across Africa and the Middle East is growing. It’s violent and scary and growing. But the reality is ISLAM won’t stand.

Secularism is growing in Australia, in academia, and education, the media, social media and public opinion. And Christianity is being driven further and further to the fringes of society.

In the end, it will be JESUS’ CHURCH, the NEW temple of his Spirit, that stands. That’s how Jesus finishes. V36.

36 Be ALWAYS ON THE WATCH, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that YOU MAY BE ABLE TO STAND BEFORE THE SON OF MAN.”

Jesus promises Peter, in Matthew 16:18, “I will build my church. And the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

There’s lots we DON’T know about the future. But Jesus’ word is TRUE. He says, “Don’t worry. Stand firm. Be always on the watch. Pray.” THAT’S keeping things in perspective!

Luke 12:13-34: Worry

Anxiety is reaching epidemic proportions in Australia. Beyond Blue says it’s the most common mental health condition in Australia, with two million sufferers– twice as many as depression. One in four Australians will experience some form of anxiety condition. One in three women, and one in five men.

Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or worried. Most of us feel stressed or anxious in a situation where we feel under pressure. But, normally, those feelings pass once the stressful situation is over. Anxiety is when those feelings DON’T GO AWAY – when they happen without any particular reason.

This is the last of our series on FEAR. And, of course, anxiety and worry are CONNECTED to fear. At the risk of over-simplification, anxiety is fear about what MIGHT happen TOMORROW. While fear is about what’s happening NOW.

We’re anxious about all sorts of things. Climate change, terrorism, computer hackers, nuclear attack, housing affordability, unpaid bills, car repairs, work pressures, passing school exams or university subjects, personal health, health epidemics, safety of family. Or, as Charlie Brown says, even our anxieties have anxieties.

For many of us, a big factor is the changes in TECHNOLOGY AND WORK. Work’s no longer something kept at the office and left behind at the end of the day. It’s accessible at the touch of a button – or the tap of a screen – thanks to smartphones, tablets and laptops.

But it’s not just WORKERS of course. A 2017 study found that the average American consumer spends five hours a day on mobile devices. An increase of 20% from the previous year! Which means by the end of this year, it might be something like SIX hours a day! Technology means we’re never disconnected. Social apps are designed to keep you permanently in a state of anticipation. Waiting for that ding or buzz of a new notification. A friend of mine – not much younger than me- recently posted on Facebook, “About to surrender my phone for a few hours to get the screen fixed. I’m genuinely a little depressed about the fact that being parted in such a way makes me MILDLY ANXIOUS! What is this bizarre world we’ve created?”

And our children aren’t immune either. University of Queensland child anxiety researcher Dr Vanessa Cobham says one in 10 children aged six to 11 now meet the criteria for diagnosable anxiety. She says many children are overprotected, pushed too hard, and “relax” with screening devices instead of playing outside with friends. She says “The chance for a carefree childhood is slim. I see it. Many kids aren’t permitted to fail — at anything. They are conscripted into more competitive activities than they know how to handle, tutors are called in to fix what teachers can’t, and pressure from schools to excel really ramps up ahead of NAPLAN for Years 3, 5, 7 and 9”

Max Lucado, in his book Fearless, quotes the statistic “The average child today … has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the 1950s.”

Anxiety, in the short term, can lead to panic attacks, heart palpitations, chest pains, light headedness, sleep deprivation. In the longer term, it can lead to a suppressed immune system, irritable bowel syndrome, and increased risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.

But in the midst of all this, Jesus commands us, “Do not worry about your life.” And God encourages us, in 1 Peter 5:7, to “cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you.” And in Philippians 4:6-7 he commands us  6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And then gives us the PROMISE 7 And the PEACE of God, which transcends all understanding, will GUARD your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

What a great promise for those of us who feel anxious! But how do we DO that? How can we take our eyes off the big monsters in life that loom over us, and instead look to God? How do we make this world SMALLER, and make God BIGGER? Jesus has the answers, here in Luke 12. The Master physician looks at our anxieties, and diagnoses them as having TWO ROOT CAUSES: What you LOVE. And who you TRUST.

Change what you love

The FIRST cause: what you LOVE. The HEART of the problem, says Jesus/ is THE PROBLEM OF THE HEART. You see, anxiety is, at its root, a HEART problem. We LOVE certain things. And then we’re ANXIOUS that we might not GET them.  For example,

  • You’re anxious about unpaid bills, because you love MONEY, and the POWER that comes from HAVING money.
  • You’re anxious about health epidemics, housing affordability, nuclear attack and terrorism because you love SAFETY AND COMFORT – for yourself and for your family.
  • You’re anxious about work pressures and passing exams because you love the ACCEPTANCE AND APPROVAL OF PEOPLE.
  • You’re anxious about mess, or recycling, or a clean house/ because you love CONTROL, and the rest of life seems so OUT of control.

But Jesus says, INSTEAD, it’s all about setting your heart on the RIGHT things. (Treasuring the MOST VALUABLE things.) See how he concludes this section? Halfway through v33?

Provide purses for yourselves that will NOT wear out, a treasure IN HEAVEN that will not be exhausted, where NO thief comes near and NO moth destroys. 34 For where your TREASURE is, there your HEART will be also.

You can work at building treasure in all sorts of ways. Money, power, leisure, family, success, reputation, a legacy, a trophy house, pleasure. But for Jesus it’s not a choice between MANY. There’s only ONE choice to be made. You either open a bank account for treasure ON EARTH. Or you open one for treasure IN HEAVEN. One that WEARS OUT. And one that LASTS.

It’s like deciding between a GOLD necklace, or a gold-PLATED necklace. One won’t tarnish, or wear out, over time. Because it’s PURE. But the OTHER LOOKS precious, but underneath it’s CHEAP, and corrodes, and won’t last. The cheap copper or steel affects the thin layer of gold on the outside. Or it’s like choosing good quality tools over CHEAP ones. Like cameras or guitars or chisels. The GOOD quality tools last longer, work better, and are more enjoyable. The best thing about the CHEAP product is the PRICE, and you forget that pretty quickly.

Jesus says it’s the same with EARTHLY treasure, compared to HEAVENLY treasure. Heavenly treasure is SAFE and SECURE – it can’t be destroyed or corrupted. And it LASTS.  It seems OBVIOUS when you put it like that. But it’s so easy for us to do. To set our hearts on EARTHLY treasure. To work at providing cheap, poor quality, temporary purses. Because those things are easy, and attractive, and immediate, and in-your-face.

How do we make that mistake? Why do we make such a foolish choice? Look at what Jesus says in v34. It begins with a DECISION about where your treasure will be. And then the steps you take to FOLLOW THROUGH on that choice. V34. “Where your TREASURE is, there your HEART will be ALSO.”

It’s a two-step process. FIRST, you DECIDE what’s most valuable- what your TREASURE is. You choose what you’ll worship. THEN, SECOND, Your life choices fall into line on the basis of what you VALUE. Your life will REFLECT that priority. Your heart will go AFTER that treasure. You’ll do ALL SORTS OF THINGS to GET it.

It’s where you’ll find your DESIRES, your PRIORITIES, your ATTENTION. It’s where you’ll invest your TIME and your ENERGY. It’s where you’ll commit the best of your thinking and emotions.

What is it WITH YOU? What keeps you awake at night? What fills your waking thoughts? What do you give your BEST to? What motivates you? What do you LOVE to receive? Many of the things we worry about come back to FOUR treasures: COMFORT, POWER, CONTROL and APPROVAL. What’s your TREASURE? And where is it FOUND? Heaven or earth?

That’s how he CONCLUDES his teaching. But look at how he BEGINS. Back up in v13. What it LOOKS like when someone’s chooses earthly treasure, and then sets their LIFE on ACHIEVING it. V13. Someone interrupts his teaching with a demand. “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” It’s easy to see where HIS treasure is. EARTHLY WEALTH. It’s what pre-occupies him. It’s more important to him than FAMILY. He’s risking his relationship with his brother to GET IT. Life is GOOD only when he’s rich.

Jesus responds with a WARNING. V15. Not just to the questioner, but to ALL those listening.

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”  LIFE DOESN’T equal POSSESSIONS. There’s more to life than STUFF. It’s NOT true that whoever dies with the most toys, wins. And then to illustrate the point, he tells a story about a rich farmer. Someone else, who, just like Jesus’ questioner, is chasing earthly treasure. V16. A bumper crop. And he’s unprepared for it. His barns are too small. So, v18, he begins a capital improvement program. New barns to store more grain and more goods. Then, v19, he’d be set for life. He’ll take early retirement. He thinks he’s provided a purse that won’t wear out. His wealth gives POWER. (The ability to have OPTIONS. To indulge himself, to take it easy, and to ENJOY life.) And that’s what he plans to do.

But Jesus concludes the story. It’s foolish, v20. Because it’s TEMPORARY. You CAN’T depend on it. V20 “But God said to him, ‘You FOOL! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

He’s set his treasure on earth. And ignored God, and HIS priorities. He’s built his life on a shaky foundation, and it’s all come tumbling down. He NEEDS A BETTER TREASURE.

And so Jesus comes to his LESSON. V22. What the disciples should LEARN from his guy.

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “THEREFORE I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear.

THEREFORE, don’t worry. The COMMAND flows from the PARABLE. BECAUSE life is more than possessions, don’t WORRY about possessions. BECAUSE possessions don’t last, it doesn’t make sense to WORRY about them.

And he’s speaking to people who make the same mistake as the foolish farmer. Who think life is only about POSSESSIONS. See the connection they make? “Don’t worry about LIFE – what you EAT. Or about the BODY – what you WEAR.” People WORRY when they decide that life CONSISTS of what they EAT. We could add, “Don’t worry about your LIFE – where you live, your bank balance, how many friends you have, what they think of you. And people WORRY about they decide that the body CONSISTS of clothes. We could add, “Don’t worry about your BODY – the risk of terrorism, the threat of disease, the leaking roof, the broken heater, the chance of promotion, or your next holiday.

Don’t worry, says Jesus, because, v23.  Life is MORE than food, and the body MORE than clothes. Because life is MORE than those things. Or GREATER than those things. And it’s foolish to think that life consists in the abundance of possessions. And to set your HEART on them. Because they don’t LAST.

When Jesus says life is MORE than food, he could mean life is MORE IMPORTANT than food. But that doesn’t really make sense. Because you NEED food to live. I think Jesus’ point is THIS. You have LIFE. God’s already done the HARD thing. He’s given you LIFE. (He’s turned bones, skin and tissue into a breathing, thinking, independent, relational self-aware being.) How incredible is THAT? That’s the REAL miracle. If he can do THAT. (Do the BIGGER thing), then the SMALLER thing of providing food to keep life GOING is EASY. So don’t worry about FOOD, because life is GREATER than food, and God’s already given you LIFE.

Just look at the BIRDS, v24. God feeds THEM and gives them life. 24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! 25 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

And it’s the same with the body and clothes. “The body is MORE THAN clothes”. If God’s made your BODY – formed it in your mother’s womb. If he’s made your eyes that are better than the most expensive camera. Your hands that can wield an axe or thread a needle. A heart that beats and lungs that expand without you thinking about them. If he’s already done THAT, then providing CLOTHES for your body is NOTHING. Just look at the FLOWERS, v27. They don’t labour or spin. Or shop, or save. They’re clothed more richly than King Solomon. Then, v28,  HOW MUCH MORE will he clothe YOU, O you of little faith?

You’re more important to God than birds or flowers. He’s given you LIFE. He’s given you a WONDERFUL BODY. So trust him for THE LITTLE THINGS. Trust him for the bills, and your health, and crossing that bridge. Trust him for the plane trip, and your University marks, and your children’s future. Trust him in the face of terrorist threats and housing unaffordability and climate change.

Change who you trust

And notice the connection between worry and unbelief. At the end of v28. “O you of little faith!” When you WORRY about things, you’re NOT TRUSTING GOD. Instead, you’re taking all the burdens onto YOURSELF. And you’re abilities to FIX them. Or DISability to fix them. Which is why you WORRY. Because most of them you CAN’T fix. That’s the SECOND of Jesus’ ROOT CAUSES for anxiety. You need to change WHO YOUR TRUST.

How big is YOUR God? When you worry about leaking taps, or lost keys, or a new dress, it’s squashing God into a tiny box. A box that says he’s too small to do this, or change that, or provide this. Worrying makes God SMALL. How big is YOUR God?

Some of you know Stu’s looking for a new job. And he’s had disappointments, and he’s missed out on some that seemed like a great fit. But through it all, he’s not WORRIED. He’s TRUSTING God. God’s looked after him SO FAR. So, he’ll look after him for the future. And God guides and he provides. All according to HIS perfect plan in HIS perfect timing.

Jesus says that anxiety comes from, 1, loving the wrong things. And, 2, about trusting the wrong person.

Replace it with a better treasure

And so, having put those things into perspective, having shown earthly treasures for the cheap imitations they really are, the logic is obvious. V29, Don’t CHASE after them.

29 And do not set your heart on (or don’t SEEK) what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them.

Don’t chase after them, because they’re not WORTH it. AND because God knows that you need them. INSTEAD. Seek a GREATER treasure. A purse that WON’T wear out. Be rich towards God. Build treasure in heaven. V31. But seek HIS kingdom, and THESE things will be given to you AS WELL. 32 “Do not be AFRAID, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to GIVE you the kingdom. Seek HIS approval. Do the things that please HIM, and that build his kingdom. Make THOSE things your top priority. Set your heart on THEM. And EARTHLY treasure will lose its sparkle. Seek JESUS HIMSELF. Connect yourself more and more TO HIM. Make THAT your treasure. And your worry over worldly things will fade.

Sometimes we need to take an old bone from our dog, Charlie. It’s dried out and splintered and dangerous. But he’s very protective over it. One trick is to give him SOMETHING BETTER to DISTRACT him. A FRESH bone – FRESH and juicy and long-lasting.

It’s the same with OUR desires. The ONLY way to stop loving earthly treasure/ is to love HEAVENLY treasure MORE. You can’t just STOP loving ONE thing. You have to REPLACE it with a GREATER love.

Thomas Chalmers, a Scottish Presbyterian minister of the early nineteenth century, preached a famous sermon called “The expulsive power of a new affection.” He said It is impossible for the heart, by any innate elasticity of its own, to cast the world away from it… The heart is not so constituted; and the only way to dispossess it of an old affection, is by the expulsive power of a new one.

Jesus commands us not to be anxious. And the ROOT of anxiety is a love for the treasures of this world. The only way to be CURED is to love Jesus more. To seek his kingdom more. And as we DO that, we’ll grow to TRUST him more. And we’ll let go of our own power and control. And our confidence in God’s provision will GROW. And our worry will ease. And the promises of Philippians 4:6-7 will prove true. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Luke 12:1-12: Fear of man

Ed Welch, in his book When People Are Big, and God is Small, identifies three basic reasons why we fear other people: because they can expose and humiliate us; because they can reject, ridicule or despise us; and because they can attack, oppress or threaten us.

 

The fear of being exposed or humiliated is seen in Imposter Syndrome. We talked about that a few weeks ago. People who are petrified that work or academic colleagues will find out they’re not capable of doing the job.

And it’s the same fear – a fear of being exposed – that makes people uncomfortable when you stare at them, or invade their personal space. It’s a fear of intimacy that makes people addicts to online gaming or social networking, or pornography, rather than real relationships.

And a fear of intimacy, or being known, is connected to a fear of being REJECTED. That’s the second CATEGORY of fear of man. Fear of being rejected or ridiculed can show itself in an obsession with REPUTATION. And that can drive you to all sorts of poor choices. With how you treat people. How you make decisions, and prioritise what matters most. Giving in to PEER PRESSURE is all about a fear of rejection. It’s a fear that can drive an obsession with fashion, or body image, or dieting, or exercise – all things that affect the opinion people have of you. And a fear of ridicule is behind many people’s fear of public speaking.

Let me tell you how it affects me. I’m a people-pleaser. I love to be accepted and included. I hate to be late, because I hate disappointing people. I like to be seen as competent and helpful – because that affects people’s opinion of me.

And I hate conflict. I don’t even like family board games or card games where there’s the potential for disagreements. All of that comes from a fear of man. Or to turn it around, a LOVE of approval and acceptance.

What’s good about this is it means I’m quick to apologise, and I work hard to mend relationships. I look for the good in people. It means I’m a good listener and slow to speak. And it means I like things to be done WELL.

But I need to watch my motivations. Doing things well can be for my own pride, and to fit in, rather than to benefit others. And mending relationships can be because I’M uncomfortable, rather than for the good of the other person. And listening rather than speaking can be SAFE, where I’m not risking disappointing someone, rather than because I want to understand them better.

At its worst, it’s a fear that means I overlook sin and bad behaviour in others, rather than addressing it. I’m tempted to say or preach what’s expected in a situation, rather than what’s true and loving and God-honouring, which might be something DIFFERENT. And I can listen TOO much, and not say ENOUGH, when words NEED to be spoken.

And I don’t think I’m alone. I think MANY of us are influenced in our choices and behaviour by fear of man. For MOST of us, it’s not a fear of physical harm or abuse, but of humiliation or rejection. And what suffers is our ability to genuinely HELP people. Protecting ourselves is more important than showing LOVE to others. And so we choose the option that makes US feel better, rather than serving others.

To fear man less, fear God more

So what’s the solution? What does God say when we’re tempted to fear man? The solution to the fear of man is TO FEAR GOD. If you want to fear man LESS, learn to fear God MORE. Ed Welch says,

“The most radical treatment for the fear of man is the fear of the Lord. God must be bigger to you than people are… Our problem is that we need people (for ourselves) more than we love them (for the glory of God). The task God sets before us is to need them less and love them more.” Edward T. Welch, When People Are Big, and God is Small (p19).

We saw that choice of who to fear in Psalm 34 in the first week of our series.

I sought the LORD, and he answered me; HE DELIVERED ME FROM ALL MY FEARS… 6 This poor man called, and the LORD heard him; he saved him out of all his troubles.  7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who FEAR HIM, and he DELIVERS them.

Fear God, and he delivers us from OTHER fears. Those fears could be of PHYSICAL HARM – like in THIS Psalm. But it might also be the fear of REJECTION AND SHAME. That seems to be what’s going on in Psalm 56. Which is more about the threat of WORDS than physical danger. VERBAL attacks Be merciful to me, O God,..2 My SLANDERERS pursue me all day long; many are attacking me in their pride.

But look at how David DEALS with those words. V3. 3 When I am afraid, I will trust in you. 4 In God, WHOSE WORD I PRAISE, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

He’s confident in the face of the words and opinions of others. As scary and threatening as his enemies seem, ultimately, they can’t harm him. Because he’s trusting God.

And notice, in particular, what it is about God he’s PRAISING. His WORD. His PROMISES. It’s not just choosing who you’ll fear. (God or man). But choosing whose WORDS you’ll listen to. The world speaks to us all the time – the media, advertising, our lecturers, fashion, our peer group. They all tell us how we should live, what we should look like, and how we should fit in.

But the cure for the damage of man’s words is God’s words. Let HIS words guide you, and speak to you, about your identity and your worth and your acceptance. Fill your mind with Scripture, so the words of the world can’t hurt you, or influence you.

I’m NOT a loser, or incompetent, or hopeless. I’m not guilty, or unfashionable, or unlovable. I’m not ashamed, or out-of-date, or abandoned. They’re the words MAN speaks. What I need to hear are God’s words for me, like from Romans 8 that we looked at last week. I’m a child of God. He’s my father. I’m heard and accepted. I have a place. I have an inheritance. I’ve been redeemed. There’s no condemnation for me. The righteous requirements of the law have been fully met in me. THOSE, and many MORE, are the words that will help me not to fear the words and slander and opinions of men.

God knows and cares Luke 12:1-7

Luke 12 is another passage that compares the fear of MAN with the fear of GOD. The context is that, in Ch 11, Jesus has criticised the Pharisees. V43, because they LOVE THE MOST IMPORTANT SEATS IN THE SYNAGOGUE. In other words, their reputation was very important to them. They loved praise and acceptance, and they feared rejection and ridicule. And so they were HYPOCRITES. V39. They were concerned with the OUTSIDE, with appearances. With what PEOPLE thought of them. When they SHOULD have been more concerned with what GOD thought of them.

And so, at the start of Ch 12, Jesus warns his disciples, against the HYPOCRISY of the Pharisees. It’s foolish to care more about APPEARANCE than SUBSTANCE. It’s foolish to act in ONE way before people, because you value their acceptance. But then to live a different way in PRIVATE.

It’s foolish, v2-3, because you can only keep things hidden for so long. Eventually secrets come out.

And that’s ESPECIALLY scary when it’s GOD who calls you to account. Because there’s so much more he can DO to you. V4

4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

The opinion-shapers of our world seem so BIG and INFLUENTIAL. The fashion bloggers, the popular girl at school, the top athlete, the trendy new bar, the work pressure to produce and succeed. Or even governments, armies, magistrates, violent mobs, or criminals, who threaten us HARM.

They SEEM so powerful. But they’re NOT, really. When you look at it from the perspective of ETERNITY. The very WORST they can do is kill you. And that’s pretty rare. Any other harm is better than THAT. Once you die, if you belong to Jesus, then you’re suffering is OVER. And paradise BEGINS.

It makes MUCH more sense to fear the One who has MUCH GREATER POWER over you. Power for eternity. The power to send you to hell, forever. On the basis of your choices NOW.

So it makes much more sense to do the things that please HIM, rather than what pleases powerless man. One commentator on these verses puts it like this, “Let it be your preoccupation to be, through and through, the kind of person of whom Almighty God will approve when that day comes.” Michael Wilcock, BST, 135

Jesus continues, v6. It’s not just about the fearing the One with the biggest STICK, though. God KNOWS and has a plan for EVERYTHING. He remembers even the littlest, least important birds, sold, cooked and consumed by the dozen. THEY’RE included in God’s purposes. So don’t fear that YOU’VE slipped through unnoticed by God. He knows everything about you – even many hairs are on your head. So, v7, don’t be afraid that you’re insignificant to God. You’re worth MORE than many sparrows.

Those are the truths you need to listen to when fears strike. When it looks like you’ll end up like a sparrow, plucked and roasting in a pan. Remember that God’s got a plan – he hasn’t forgotten you. And you’re VALUABLE to him.

Speak up courageously for Jesus, with the help of the Holy Spirit (Lk 12:8-12)

They’re the words that will help YOU to speak words, v8-9. When you’re in a position to speak up for Jesus before others.

For me the temptation is to stay quiet. Because I want to be ACCEPTED by people. The temptation is to value MY friendship with that person more than them becoming friends with GOD.

But failing to acknowledge Jesus before men risks Jesus failing to acknowledge ME on judgment day. That’s the praise I need to value MORE than the praise of men.

The same warning is put a different way in v10-12.

10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”

The unforgivable sin of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit. It’s caused lots of confusion and worry. With people worried they’ve committed the unforgiveable sin without knowing it.

In Matthew and Mark, it’s connected with the Pharisees accusing Jesus of using the power of Satan, rather than the Holy Spirit, to drive out demons. In other words, it’s not recognising the work of the Holy Spirit.

Notice the context HERE, though. V12 talks about the not worrying because the Holy Spirit will TEACH and GUIDE you in what you should say. Which will be words that acknowledge Jesus. If you FAIL to speak those words, you’re not recognising the work of the Holy Spirit. You’re refusing to submit to his prompting. If you do that, consistently, across your life, that means you REJECT him. And there’s no forgiveness for THAT attitude. Which, in the end, is the same thing as Jesus not acknowledging you on Judgment Day.

So the big message from Jesus here is: “Don’t fear. Don’t be anxious. Don’t fear harm, or rejection, or disapproval. Instead SPEAK UP FOR JESUS. Live courageously for him. Because God KNOWS and CARES. You’re VALUABLE. And his Holy Spirit will guide and teach and strengthen and embolden you.

God’s good plan (Romans 8:28-30)

There’s one final passage I want to look at briefly. It’s too good to ignore. The last part of Romans 8. We looked at the START of Romans 8 last week. V28-30 talk about God’s good plan for us. 28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

We’re tempted to fear BAD THINGS happening. But God ALWAYS works everything for GOOD OUTCOMES. To make us into the likeness of Jesus, and ultimately to bring us to glory.

Nothing can harm us (Rom 8:31-39)

And so, with THAT truth firmly set in place, from v31, it means that NOTHING can harm us. “If God is FOR us, who can be AGAINST us?”

And if you’re tempted to think, in the middle of a difficult situation, that God’s not really FOR you, remember this, v32, if God gave you his own SON, how will he not also give us EVERYTHING?!

And if you’re tempted to feel guilt from man’s accusations. V33 GOD has justified you. There’s no higher court to appeal to. You’ve been acquitted in the SUPREME Court, there’s no legal avenues left to accuse you.

And if you’re tempted to feel condemned and abandoned by man. V34. The risen Jesus is on your side. Your big brother, your legal representative, speaking up for you to the Father.

Which means, v35, that NOTHING on earth can separate us from Jesus’ love. Not trouble, hardship, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger or sword. Or, v38, death, life, angels, demons, present, future, powers, height, depth or ANYTHING ELSE in ALL CREATION. You’re SECURE!

Which is not the same thing as saying those things won’t HAPPEN to you. But that IN them, you’ll remain LOVED and KEPT by Jesus. Or look at v37.

37 No, IN all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

The Christian will STILL endure persecution, famine, danger and sword. Even DEATH. But we OVERCOME them. Actually we HYPER-overcome them. It’s a rare word. Most translations say “we are MORE than conquerors.” It COULD mean we beat them COMPLETELY. But I wonder whether Paul’s not saying something DIFFERENT. Those things might beat you, but you do something BETTER than conquer. You ENDURE, and you grow like Jesus, and you’re KEPT and you’re LOVED. Which is BETTER than conquering!

They’re the words we need to speak to ourselves. God’s words to replace the words the WORLD speaks to us. No wonder we can sing along with David from Ps 56

3 When I am afraid, I will trust in you.  4 In God, WHOSE WORD I PRAISE, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me?

Let me finish with one final story. It’s taken from an ancient manuscript called the Martyrdom of Polycarp, written, by eyewitnesses, towards the end of the second century. And it describes the death of Polycarp, a leader of the early church.

As Polycarp was being taken into the arena, a voice came to him from heaven: “Be strong, Polycarp and play the man!” No one saw who had spoken, but our brothers who were there heard the voice… The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize… “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.” “86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

And then he was burned at the stake. More concerned with the opinion of his Lord than acceptance from man. Even his own life. Trusting the words of Jesus.

4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5 But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

Luke 12:13-21: How to succeed in business

What makes someone a success in business? Perhaps you’d START by looking to those WEARING THE DESIGNER SUITS, or expensive watches or shoes. Or driving the expensive cars, or sitting in the big corner offices. But success is more than APPEARANCES.

Or maybe it’s the ruthless, unemotional, profit-maker. The big income-earner. Every decision is about the DOLLARS. Relationships and people don’t matter. But success is more than PROFIT.

Or maybe it’s the ambitious, energetic, competitor, who’ll tread on and crush anyone who stands in her way to success. But success is more than POSITION and PROMOTION.

Or what about the dedicated, committed hard-worker? Every moment is spent on the business. It succeeds, but her family’s sacrificed in the process. But that’s not success, if it’s failure in OTHER areas of life.

Or then there’s the person who LEARNS from all those mistakes. Perhaps she works hard, makes good money. But she keeps a good work-life balance. She takes regular holidays, and she spends weekends with her family. Is THAT business success?

But Jesus says that each of these people has forgotten SOMETHING. They’re successful by ONE measure, but in OTHERS, they’re FAILURES. And so, rather than being WISE. They’re FOOLS.

The Rich Fool

Just like the person who comes to Jesus one day. (v13) “Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” For this guy, money matters more than family! The dollar signs have blinded him to the importance of family relationships– which is MUCH more important.

And so Jesus corrects his wrong emphasis – his BLINDNESS and FOOLISHNESS. V15

“Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; A MAN’S LIFE DOES NOT CONSIST IN THE ABUNDANCE OF HIS POSSESSIONS.”

There’s more to life than THINGS. Or material success. And then, to prove the point, he tells a story. A story about a man who meets all the criteria for business success. But Jesus says he’s forgotten ONE THING. And that makes him a FOOL.

v16. A farmer with a bumper crop. His preparation, and planning and execution had all come together to produce more grain than he could store. So he puts together a new business model (v18). Upgrade his assets. Tear down his old warehouses, and build BIGGER ones.

But his planning is more than JUST profits. He had the right work-life balance. Wealth was to be ENJOYED. He was taking the LONG term view. All his hard work was for A PURPOSE. He wanted to get the MOST out of life. Take early retirement. To enjoy the good things in life. V19.

I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”‘

It’s the goal of many people today, isn’t it? Work hard NOW, build up the nest egg. And enjoy things LATER. He thinks he’s got it all worked out! Surely, HE’S succeeded at business! But then in one swift, devastating judgment, v20, Jesus drags him down. He’s not a success. He’s a FOOL. Because he’s planned only as far as THIS LIFE. He’s ignored ETERNITY.

“But God says, ‘You FOOL! This very night your LIFE WILL BE DEMANDED FROM YOU. Then who’ll get what you’ve prepared for yourself?’

All his plans come to nothing. DEATH – the great equalizer – had struck. And left him with nothing! He’d LOOKED like a success. But God’s assessment was he was a FAILURE. He’d thought life was about STUFF. But success is more than just accumulating possessions. He’d thought he was planning long-term. But it wasn’t long-term ENOUGH. He’d planned for RETIREMENT. But he hadn’t thought about DEATH. His planning only stretched as far as grey hair, a stiff back, and his superannuation return. He’d forgotten about heart attacks, or death, or life-after-death. You can’t control THOSE things with money. Or stockpile them in sheds. Or control them with a sound investment strategy.

And Jesus says, “Only FOOLS think differently!” And he concludes his story. V21. “This is how it will be with anyone/ who STORES UP THINGS FOR HIMSELF/ BUT ISN’T RICH TOWARD GOD.”” ONLY A FOOL builds riches on earth, and ignores God. ONLY A FOOL is more concerned with his FIVE YEAR PLAN than his ETERNAL DESTINY.

To be rich towards God means to put HIM first. And then to base your priorities and decisions on HIS ways. FEARING him. Knowing him. Bowing to HIS Son, Jesus. That’s the BEGINNING of wisdom. That’s the TRUE measure of success.

Fear of the LORD

That’s JESUS. And it shouldn’t surprise us that Proverbs AGREES. Success in business begins with putting God FIRST. Proverbs 3:7  Do not be wise in your own eyes; FEAR THE LORD and shun evil. 8 This will bring health to your body and nourishment to your bones. 9 HONOR THE LORD with your WEALTH, with the firstfruits of all your crops; 10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.

In other words, BE RICH TOWARDS GOD. Just like Jesus said. Put him first in everything. Do all your work God’s way, and things generally turn out well. Like 16:3  Commit to the LORD whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.

Give all your work to God. God’s PURPOSES done God’s WAY according to God’s PRIORITIES. THAT’S the way to succeed in business. It’s the FIRST STEP in WISE WORK.

A wise attitude to wealth

But the trap is that the more SUCCESS we have in business, the more we’re tempted to turn away from God. So we need to keep a wise attitude to wealth. TOO much money can lead to pride and self-sufficiency. Proverbs 30:8-9 Give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. 9 Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the LORD?’

“Who needs God?” the rich think.  But wisdom knows better. Even if you ARE wealthy. There’s no certainty you’ll STAY that way. 23:4 Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint. 5 Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle.

It’s just not WISE to spend your whole life pursuing something that isn’t SECURE! Some people have this life motto: Whoever dies with the most toys wins. But 28:8 gives us the BIG PICTURE.  He who increases his wealth by exorbitant interest / amasses it for ANOTHER, who WILL be kind to the poor.

This Proverb says, Whoever dies with the most toys, STILL DIES. Instead, wisdom says there are more important things in life than wealth. Like respect and integrity. 22:1 A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

And righteous living. 16:8 Better a little with RIGHTEOUSNESS than much gain with injustice.

You’ll sleep easier at night, knowing you’ve earned your wage HONESTLY. THAT’S success!

And happiness and peacefulness and doing things God’s way/ make a better life than fine food and expensive houses. 15:16 Better a little with THE FEAR OF THE LORD than great wealth with TURMOIL. 17 Better a meal of vegetables where there is LOVE than a fattened calf with HATRED.  

Integrity and faith MATTER.

It’s such a trap in the materialistic west. How many families are living in million dollar houses, with all the gadgets? A bedroom and a bathroom and a TV for every child. But God is forgotten. And the kids never leave their rooms. And the family can’t EAT together without ARGUING. They hang expensive curtains over huge windows so the neighbours can’t see their desperately miserable lives. THAT’S not success! Wealth is GOOD. But LOTS more things that are more important.

Work hard

And so, with those priorities in place, Proverbs also has plenty of wise business advice about how to make a SUCCESS of your work.  The most consistent theme is that of not being LAZY. 10:4  Lazy hands make a man poor, but DILIGENT hands bring WEALTH.

Many of the funniest Proverbs are at the expense of the lazy man, or the SLUGGARD. 26:14 As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed. 15 The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth.  So lazy, he won’t even FEED himself.

And he’s got a million excuses why he can’t work. 22:13  The sluggard says, “There is a lion outside!” or, “I will be murdered in the streets!”

And that sort of work ethic leads to RUIN and POVERTY. 6:9 How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest– 11 and poverty will come on you like a bandit. 

The sluggard will always put off to tomorrow what he can do today. But that leads to poverty. 20:4 A sluggard does not plow in season; so at harvest time he looks but finds nothing.

H eventually gets around to it. But it’s too late, he’s missed his chance, and so there’s no return.

He may THINK he knows best. But the sluggard can learn some lessons about work from an unlikely source. The ant. 6:6 Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! 7 It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, 8 yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.  Hard work, planning and preparation, self-starting initiative. That’s the way to get ahead.

Honesty

Another wise quality in business is HONESTY. 11:1 The LORD hates dishonest scales, but accurate weights are his delight.

RUTHLESSNESS and GREED will only work for so long. INTEGRITY and TRUTH and FAIRNESS MATTER in business. That’s the way to build a business that LASTS. That means selling a product by describing it accurately. Recording the hours you work accurately. Writing accurate invoices. Declaring your true income. Delivering the services you SAY you’ll deliver. Not hiding contract conditions in tricky language or fine print for your own interests.

And some more advice about honesty. Don’t talk down the value of something you’re buying just so you can get it at a lower price. Pay a fair price. 20:14 “It’s no good, it’s no good!” says the buyer; then off he goes and boasts about his purchase.

Those sorts of great deals have a way of coming back to bite you. 20: 17  Food gained by FRAUD tastes sweet to a man, but he ends up with a MOUTH FULL OF GRAVEL.

If you don’t like being ripped off, don’t do it to others. God LOVES honesty and integrity. And he has a way of making things EVEN.

Generous, not greedy

Another wise quality in business is NOT TO BE GREEDY. It seems NONSENSE in today’s business world, where GREED IS GOOD. Instead, 28:25  A greedy man stirs up dissension, but he who trusts in the LORD will prosper.  Instead, wisdom says, “Be generous.” 19:17 He who is kind to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will reward him for what he has done.

What a great image that is. God sees a generous act, and he thinks. “I’m going to fix up that debt. I’ll repay it.” God LOVES to bless the generous giver. Listen to the peculiar upside down logic of God’s economics. 11:24 One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. 25 A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed. 26 People curse the man who hoards grain, but blessing crowns him who is willing to sell. That’s KINGDOM ECONOMICS. Look after other people before yourself, and you’ll succeed. Doesn’t make much BUSINESS sense. But it’s God’s wisdom.

Although, what’s fascinating is that there’s a revolution happening in business and management best practice. More and more the literature is reflecting what the Bible’s been teaching for thousands of years. For example, Tim Sanders, in Love Is The Killer App, writes, “the most important new trend in business is the downfall of the barracudas, sharks and piranhas, and the ascendancy of nice, smart people.”

Keith Ferrazzi agrees. In his book Never Eat Alone, he says that networking used to be about looking for what you could get OUT of other people. He argues it’s actually MORE SUCCESSFUL to use networking to find ways to make OTHERS more successful. He writes

“I came to realise at business school that Harvard’s hypercompetitive, individualistic students had it all wrong. Success in any field, especially in business is about working WITH people, not AGAINST them. No tabulation of dollars and cents can account for one immutable fact: Business is a HUMAN enterprise, driven and determined by People. Bottom line: it’s better to give than to receive. If your interactions are ruled by generosity, your rewards will follow suit.”

Matt Perman, in his book What’s Best Next, agrees, adding that putting others first leads to success in EVERY area of our work life. “The key motivation in effective job interviewing is showing how you can benefit your potential employer. The chief principle of effective customer service is to benefit your CUSTOMER. In every area of work, SEEKING THE BENEFIT OF OTHERS is the guiding principle of EFFECTIVENESS.”

Isn’t that JUST what Proverbs is teaching!? 11:25 A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes OTHERS will himself be refreshed. PEOPLE recognise generosity. And even more importantly GOD recognises it.

More advice. The GREEDY person can make foolish business decisions. Because they’re dazzled by the dollars, and blind to the risks. Like falling for get rich quick schemes 12:11 He who works his land will have abundant food, but he who CHASES FANTASIES lacks judgment. If it seems too good to be true. It probably is. Here’s a BETTER idea. 13:11 Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money LITTLE BY LITTLE makes it grow. Better to build wealth slowly and carefully. They’re the basic attitudes, or character qualities to have for business success: HARD WORK, HONESTY, AND GENEROSITY. But Proverbs also has some more SPECIFIC advice about wise work. Here are a few more wise business strategies

Focus on what you’re good at: Focus on what you’re GOOD at. That’s the way to build wealth. 22:29 Do you see a man SKILLED in his work? He will SERVE BEFORE KINGS; he will not serve before obscure men.  Don’t be a doctor just because they make lots of money. Don’t open a dry cleaner if you know nothing about it. Just because there’s no dry cleaner in your town. Begin with what you’re GOOD at. Or you’ve got A PASSION for. Try to build a business out of THAT. That’s the way to success.

Make your income-producing assets a priority: And there are a number of Proverbs that focus on making your INCOME-PRODUCING ASSETS a priority. For example. Identify what your income-generating assets are. And make THEM the priority. 24:27 Finish your outdoor work and get your fields ready; after that, build your house. You might be more COMFORTABLE if you build your house first. But you might run out of money before it’s FINISHED. Better to get your fields sown with grain, while you sleep in a tent. THEN you can worry about building your house, while your field is building your wealth.

A WISE business will make sure it spends money on the machinery that MAKES the money before they worry about flashy desks and lounges and coffee makers. They might work from their garage while the business grows/ before they invest in commercial facilities.

It’s false economy not to buy incoming-producing assets: Another part of prioritising your income-producing assets is to capitalise sufficiently so the business can WORK properly. Buy the equipment you NEED. You have to SPEND a certain amount of money to MAKE money. 14:4 Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the STRENGTH of an ox comes an abundant harvest. You may SAVE money by not buying oxen. (You won’t have to FEED them). But you won’t PRODUCE ANY CROPS, EITHER.

Our family dentist, Craig, has some pretty fancy equipment. Must have cost THOUSANDS. As well as all the usual stuff, he’s got a microscope connected to a video camera that’s projected onto a TV on the ceiling. You can see your teeth in all their gory detail as he works on them. But he’s got a bad back, and the microscope means he can sit upright, looking straight ahead without bending over. It COST a lot. But WITHOUT it, he wouldn’t be ABLE TO WORK. That’s WISE.

Diversify your income sources: And because you won’t HAVE a business without income, it’s wise to diversify your income sources. Broaden the ways you can GENERATE income. When ONE part of the business isn’t so profitable, there are OTHERS that make up the shortfall. 27:25 When the HAY is removed and new growth appears and the grass from the hills is GATHERED IN, 26 the LAMBS will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field. 27 You will have plenty of goats’ milk to feed you and your family. A WISE farmer maximises what he’s GOT by diversifying his business.

Plan: And here’s a REALLY important one to finish with. PLAN FOR THE FUTURE. Make hay while the sun shines. Prepare for tomorrow, TODAY. Just like the ANT. 30:24 “Four things on earth are small, yet they are extremely wise: 25 Ants are creatures of little strength, YET THEY STORE UP THEIR FOOD IN THE SUMMER;  That means wise businesses FORECAST. Strategize. Stockpile. Budget for repairs and maintenance. Keep accurate inventories. They spend money on research and development. They have succession plans in place for key personnel.

The whole attitude of planning for the future is NATURAL for the Christian. Because that’s what the Christian life is all about. Living in light of Jesus’ return. 2 Peter 3 talks about the day of the Lord, and how THIS world will be stripped bare. Then v11 says

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to BE? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.

Prepare TODAY for the future. Not your retirement. That’s FOOLISH to only think THAT far ahead. Prepare to MEET GOD. That’s the ULTIMATE day of audit. Nothing else matters more. Are YOU ready for that day? Whatever your job, whether it’s paid, or unpaid work with integrity and honesty and generosity and wisdom. FEAR the LORD. Aim to please HIM in your work. That’s the way to TRULY succeed in business. But, more importantly, to succeed in LIFE.

Luke 16:1-15: Work and wealth

Let me warn you. What I’m about to say might SHOCK you. It’s not the sort of thing that’s normally discussed in polite circles. I’m going to talk about MONEY.

It seems to me Christians have an uneasy relationship with money. On the ONE hand, if we’re honest, we LIKE money. We like it because we can do lots of good things with it. It buys ESSENTIALS – like food and clothes and medicine and homes to live in. And light bulbs and refrigerators and electricity. Most of us couldn’t LIVE without money.

And we like money because it buys things and experiences we ENJOY. Like holidays or ice cream or books or toys or TV’s or concert tickets or games of golf or jewelry. Money helps make life ENJOYABLE.

And we like money because we can DO GOOD FOR OTHER PEOPLE. We can buy presents for our family, or give money to missionaries, or help to house and clothe and feed refugees, or buy a meal for a homeless man, or give money to the church, or pay a bill for an unemployed neighbor, or sponsor a Compassion child.

And that’s where WORK comes in. Because, for MOST people, unless they WORK, they don’t have MONEY to be able to DO those things. In fact, Ephesians 4:28 says

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.

Surely, it’s good to have money, isn’t it? Then why do we feel guilty about having it, or saving it, or not giving enough, or being wealthier than most of the world.

We have a nagging feeling there’s something EVIL about money. Perhaps it’s verses like James 5, that says

5:1 Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming upon you. 2 Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. 3 Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days.

Or 1 Timothy 6:10, that says 10 For the love of money is a root of ALL KINDS OF EVIL. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

And Jesus himself says (Luke 18:24-25) “How HARD it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” It certainly SOUNDS like money’s a bad thing.

Or IS it? Proverbs 3:9-10 encourages us to 9 Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops; 10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine. That sounds like God BLESSES WITH WEALTH those who are generous to him. And Proverbs 10:22 says it even MORE clearly.  22 The blessing of the LORD brings WEALTH, and he adds no trouble to it.

Then there’s Ecclesiastes 5. It takes a step back, and says that God gives EVERYTHING to DO with wealth. He gives the work we do, the ENJOYMENT of our work, and the possessions and wealth that COME from work. They’re ALL from God.

18 Then I realized that it is good and proper for a man to eat and drink, and to find satisfaction in his toilsome labor under the sun during the few days of life God has given him-for this is his lot. 19 Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work-THIS IS A GIFT OF GOD.

Work and wealth are gifts from God, and part of his good purposes for the world. But, like all good, God-given things, we’ve got a way of turning MONEY and WEALTH into something BAD. Into an IDOL. It’s not that MONEY is bad. It’s our ATTITUDE to it, and what we DO with it, that’s bad. See there in 1 Timothy 6:10? It’s the LOVE of money that’s evil. Not money ITSELF. I want to suggest that money and wealth are like medical radioactive isotopes*. DANGEROUS, BUT USEFUL.

ANSTO Nuclear Reactor at Lucas Heights produces medical radioisotopes. They’re radioactive chemicals used in hospitals for scans and cancer treatments. They’re HIGHLY DANGEROUS. And nuclear scientists have to take MAJOR SAFETY PRECAUTIONS when producing them, or handling them. But when they’re used in THE RIGHT WAY, they’re LIFE-SAVING.

And it’s the same with worldly wealth. Treated with caution, and used wisely, it can have WONDERFUL AFFECTS. But when people don’t take its dangers seriously, it can be DEADLY. It’s DANGEROUS, BUT USEFUL.

That’s what brother and sister, George and Nola Mezher discovered.* At the Enmore hairdressing salon they owned and ran, they often joked with customers about the new Rolls Royce or BMW they’d buy if they won the lottery. Then came the day when they weren’t just TALKING about it – they WON it. In 1982, they won $429,000!

But they DIDN’T buy a new car or a mansion. They did something that most people couldn’t understand. Financial advisers would laugh at it. They started a soup kitchen. It was called “Our Lady of Snows,” near Central Railway Station. And not only did they provide the money, but they spent their days there, cooking and serving and shopping and cleaning. And even raised hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years for OTHER charities.

George says, “Other winners go on trips and buy shares. But it’s better to get out and DO SOMETHING GOOD WITH YOUR MONEY, Because YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU.”

Now, I’m not sure whether they’re Christian, or not. And I’m CERTAINLY not telling you to play the lottery. But George and Nola have EXACTLY the sort of attitude to money Jesus WANTS. Treat it as DANGEROUS, but USEFUL. Like a medical radio isotope. Make it serve YOU, rather than you serve IT.

In Luke 16 Jesus tells a story about a rich man. He finds out his manager is wasting the profits. Either by incompetence, or dishonesty, we’re not told. He calls him in, and asks him to present the books. To show the evidence of his mis-management.

And the manager’s got a problem. There in v3. 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg-

His options are limited. There’s no way he’ll get a good reference, and word will get around. No one else will employ him. And he’s a PROUD/ WIMP. Too ashamed to BEG. And too PUNY for physical labour. And so he comes up with a plan. V4

I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

He goes through the debtor’s register. And forgives huge amounts of debt. (Writes it off). We’re only told about TWO EXAMPLES, but we assume he does it for EVERYONE. While he’s still got authority to make those sorts of agreements, he DOES it. Before he loses his job. And the boss will be STUCK with the new arrangements, because they’re LEGALLY BINDING. The theory is/ if he can make some friends/ while he’s still got some influence, when he’s unemployed, he can call in some of his favours, and get some help.

Now, commentators argue about whether he’s done anything illegal or not. Some say he has – he’s defrauding his boss. Others say the boss was actually ILLEGALLY CHARGING INTEREST on the loans. And all the manager was doing was wiping off the interest charge. Or that it was only the manager’s own commission he was losing. Whatever the situation is/ the manager’s been CLEVER. SHREWD.

But now the plan’s finished, what happens NEXT? What will the boss do when he finds out? His response is surprising. Look at it there in v8. 8 “The master COMMENDED the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.

We may not agree with his MORALS, but we have to applaud his CLEVERNESS. Notice, the boss commends the dishonest manager for his SHREWDNESS. It DOESN’T say he commended the SHREWD manager for his DISHONESTY! It’s a funny response for the master to have. It suggests either that it’s illegal interest he’s lost, or else the manager’s commission. Another suggestion is that while the master loses money, he actually ends up with a lot of goodwill from his customers. And there’ll be benefits for him into the future. So, he’s not TOO angry. We don’t really know WHAT the master’s motivation was. But he did recognize a CLEVER use of RESOURCES.

And that’s Jesus’ point. We should learn from the same clever use of resources. See there, halfway through v8? For the people of THIS WORLD (that’s the dishonest manager) are more SHREWD in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light (that’s US).

Often we’re amateurish with the way we use resources. And we’re slow to take opportunities. Or we RUSH and make a foolish decision. Or we’re not CREATIVE in how we make the most of what we have. Or we’re not willing to WORK HARD to DEVELOP proposals. Or we’re unwilling to take a calculated risk.

There’s a lot we can LEARN from the best practices of businesses and entrepreneurs and marketers. Sure, there’s lots for us to AVOID, TOO. But Jesus wants us to learn from the shrewd manager (v9) 9 I tell you, USE WORLDLY WEALTH TO GAIN FRIENDS FOR YOURSELVES, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into ETERNAL dwellings.

That’s the situation with dishonest steward. He made the most of what he had. He didn’t have the strength to do manual labour. He didn’t have the humility to beg. He didn’t have savings or assets of his own. But he had responsibility over the debtor’s register. He used what he HAD, and made the MOST of it before it was GONE. He recognized the times, and was shrewd NOW/ to prepare for THE FUTURE. And we’re to use worldly wealth shrewdly NOW, to make friends. Because there’s A FAR MORE IMPORTANT future to prepare for. Not EARTHLY dwellings, but ETERNAL dwellings.

Jesus is saying just what he’s been saying for the last couple of chapters. The kingdom of God is about the poor and crippled and lame and blind. The outsiders. The tax collectors and sinners. They’re the ones God wants in the kingdom. Use your earthly resources NOW to be HOSPITABLE TO THEM. To look after them. To invite them into the kingdom. Because it’s just what Jesus did. Obedience like THAT results in your welcome into eternal dwellings. Being hospitable NOW leads to ETERNAL hospitality at God’s banquet table. With those new friends there as well. THAT’S what wealth should be used for.

Caron and I went to a fund-raising dinner on Friday night. For Christian Scripture. Raising money from wealthy Christians to make sure kids keep hearing about Jesus in public schools. And the sorts of supporters who were there are WEALTHY. They’ve been WISE with how they’ve used their assets. And they give TENS OF THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS to these sorts of Christian charities every year. That’s what Jesus is talking about – Use worldly wealth to gain friends for the kingdom.

And it’s not just about being hospitable with your MONEY. The word’s much BROADER than money. It’s worldly wealth in general. Literally it’s UNRIGHTEOUS MAMMON. It can be your home, or food, or car, or trailer, or tent, or holidays, or boat, or books. All you have/ is to be wisely used to MAKE FRIENDS FOR ETERNITY. That’s the only value it has.

It’s not for hoarding, or gloating over. Or collecting. Because it doesn’t LAST. Which is just what George and Nola said – you can’t take it with you! If the rich man sat down to take a look at YOUR books. What would they say about YOU? How have you used YOUR wealth to make a difference in ETERNITY? What RETURN have you achieved? What percentage of your money is used for OTHERS? For missionaries? For hospitality? For ministry? For Christian camps or conferences?

They’re the OBVIOUS ways to use our resources for the kingdom. But what about thinking of our wealth the way Jesus does here? (GAINING FRIENDS for the kingdom?) I’m not talking about buying friendship by spending money on people. But there are all sorts of ways we can use our resources to build friendships. Why not be WISE and INTENTIONAL in DOING that?

Join a sporting team, or go camping with some non-Christian friends. Organise a restaurant meal or a Saturday ferry trip, or a bushwalk. Go for a drive somewhere with a full car. Use your station wagon to help a friend move house, or take stuff to the tip. Think of your resources as a way of fostering and deepening friendships. For the sake of the kingdom.

And then there’s all the ways our combined resources AS A CHURCH help us make friends. There’s the KCentral Day coming up, and the Council Christmas carols in December. Our church BUILDING is a great resource we don’t use very shrewdly. It’s in a great location. With hundreds of people walking past every day. I’d love to be able to open it up during the week. For Bible study, or a lunchtime service, or just for quiet reflection.  Or playgroups or language classes in our halls. Or an after school homework club.  The PLC early learning centre is ONE of the ways we’re using our resources WISELY to make friends for the kingdom. It’s using worldly wealth to make friends for eternity.

Jesus goes on to say / it’s all a matter of being a good steward with what you’ve got. Making the MOST of it. V10.  10 “Whoever can be trusted with very LITTLE can also be trusted with MUCH, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling WORLDLY wealth, who will trust you with TRUE riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

The shrewd manager had to give an account for how he used what he’d been given. And SO WILL WE. Everything we have comes from God. We’ve been ENTRUSTED with it, and he expects us to use it WELL. To be FAITHFUL and RELIABLE and TRUSTWORTHY in how we use it. And Jesus promises a REWARD in eternity. If we can use EARTHLY riches wisely, then there’ll be TRUE RICHES for eternity. A heavenly welcome. A “well done, good and faithful servant” from Jesus himself.

But notice in v13 the word of warning? Here’s where we see that wealth is like medical radioisotopes – USEFUL BUT DANGEROUS.  13 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”

Wealth is useful when it’s the SERVANT, not the MASTER. When money becomes the MASTER, it’s DANGEROUS. Because you let go of God. You can’t serve TWO MASTERS – God AND money. You can’t LOVE BOTH.

You can never use worldly wealth WELL/ if you LOVE it. (If you VALUE it, for its own sake. If you covet it. Make it your IDOL.)

To love God. To be a good steward. You must HATE money. Treated with caution, and used wisely, it can have WONDERFUL EFFECTS. But when people don’t take its dangers seriously, it can be DEADLY. It’s DANGEROUS, BUT USEFUL.

That’s what we see in 1 Timothy 6. We read verse 10 earlier. But earlier in the chapter, v5, Paul’s warning Timothy about false teachers who see their church work as a means to financial gain. They’re loving MONEY, and not loving GOD. And so Paul gives the RIGHT perspective on money. V6. But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

The business world is always looking for a great investment with great returns. But there’s something that gives even BETTER returns. A greater profit. Profit that LASTS. It’s GODLINESS WITH CONTENTMENT. That’s the best profit to chase. Seek after God, and be like him. Seek after his kingdom, using all the resources God’s given you. Yes, be SHREWD, and be FAITHFUL. Push the limits. Let wealth serve YOU, and use it to build God’s kingdom.

But at the same time, be CONTENT with what you have. Because God’s wisely given you exactly what you need. Don’t let wealth ENSLAVE you. It’s a trap to keep ACCUMULATING. It might LOOK impressive, but it DOESN’T LAST. And you can’t take it with you into eternity.

If you’re CONTENT. And if you see that wealth doesn’t last forever. Then IT can serve YOU. And you can be a better steward with what God gives you. You can make it work better.

May we be people who are SHREWD in the way we use worldly wealth. Good stewards who work hard, and creatively, and faithfully with the resources we’ve got. With contentment. Who USE it to make friends for ourselves FOR ETERNITY, for the sake of God’s kingdom.

 

Luke 11:14-12:12: Kingdom coming

Are you frustrated at what you see around you in society? Frustrated at the injustices of Aboriginal health, or the lack of action on climate change, or skyrocketing housing prices, or the obscene bonuses paid to company CEO’s, or the lack of political compassion toward refugees, or the widespread abortion and refusal by the medical profession to protect the rights of the unborn?

What can you DO about it? Many people see the solution in the political process. Changing THE SYSTEM.

Political systems are designed to try to bring the greatest good to the greatest number of people. And, of course, opinions vary about which one is the BEST.

DEMOCRACY gives power to the people who VOTE. And it protects us from dictators. But that strength is also a weakness. A problem with democracy is that voters’ self-interest and ignorance often mean they don’t vote WELL. Just because a decision is POPULAR doesn’t make it RIGHT.

Then there’s CAPITALISM. Where decisions are made by companies and share-holders. And most of us enjoy the prosperity that comes from capitalism. But, once again, business and economic decisions are made out of self-interest, rather than for the greatest good. And so capitalism, left unchecked, tends to exploitation and oppression of the poor and powerless. It tends to result in market monopolies and an uneven distribution of power and wealth.

And so some suggest that SOCIALISM is the answer. Where production and distribution is organised by the community as a whole. With the result that everyone gets a fair amount of what they need. Which sounds fine in theory. Except that the LAZY take advantage of those who DO THE WORK. And they receive the same benefits for less work. Or else it results in those in charge ABUSING their authority for their own benefit.

The reality is there’s no perfect SYSTEM, because the problem isn’t THE SYSTEM. It’s PEOPLE. There’s no perfect system because there’s no perfect PERSON. We’re ALL selfish and self-interested. We, naturally, want others to FAIL so we can SUCCEED.

We look for solutions to problems in society by changing the EXTERNALS. Changing the government, or the politics or the economy or the systems. But the truth is the problems are INSIDE. What we need is something to CHANGE US.

Jesus prays for the kingdom

We saw last week how Jesus prayed. He prayed that God would hallow his own name – that he’d act to make his name HOLY. And he prayed that God would BRING IN HIS KINGDOM. A kingdom where people’s daily needs were met, and where sin was dealt with and relationships were healthy.

It’s A BIG PRAYER, because Jesus is praying for God to work in the external, structural ways, but also in the INTERNAL, PERSONAL ways.

It’s a prayer Jesus learned from places like Ezekiel 36. Where God promises to bring in a new system, a new world order. A KINGDOM.

His people are in exile. Off in Babylon as punishment for their rebellion and idolatry. And God’s tired of people dishonouring his reputation – profaning his holy name. And so he promises to make a change. He’s going to bring back his people, and restore them. And there’ll be peace and prosperity. It’s a new political structure!

But not just EXTERNALS. Look at what ELSE he’s going to do. V25.

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Not just a new STRUCTURE. But a new PEOPLE. He’s going to CHANGE them. From the INSIDE. That’s the only way to bring GENUINE transformation. Change that LASTS.

A new kingdom that really WORKS to bring the most GOOD to the most number of people. Because it begins on the INSIDE, and then works OUTWARDS.

And that’s what Jesus is praying for. And that’s what he’s teaching his DISCIPLES to pray for. That God’s KINGDOM WOULD COME. (That his RULE would be seen.)

Jesus brings the kingdom against evil

But Jesus doesn’t just PRAY it, he begins to BRING IT IN. Which is what he does from v14 of Luke 11. (Today’s passage). He drives out a demon from a mute man. And he can TALK AGAIN. It’s an extraordinary demonstration of real POWER TO CHANGE. And the crowd’s AMAZED.

And Jesus describes it as ONE KINGDOM INVADING ANOTHER. V17. Satan’s kingdom’s in charge. Then Jesus comes along and drives out demons. And in v20, he says,

20 But if I drive out demons by the finger of God, then THE KINGDOM OF GOD HAS COME TO YOU.

Finally, a new system that can deal with EVIL! God steps in to get rid of suffering!

Jesus goes on to describe the change of regime like two strong men fighting over possession of a house. V21.

21 “When a strong man, fully armed, guards his own house, his possessions are safe. 22 But when someone stronger attacks and overpowers him, he takes away the armor in which the man trusted and divides up the spoils.

That’s what’s going on in the ministry of Jesus. He’s the STRONGER man bashing up Satan, the strong man.

The kingdom begins INSIDE YOU

But getting rid of evil is only the BEGINNING. You’ve got to replace it with something ELSE. It’s one thing to EMPTY someone of demons. But then you’ve got to REPLACE them with the HOLY Spirit. And only GOD can do that. Genuine transformation will only come when the change is INTERNAL.

V24-26, Jesus describes what happens when only HALF the process happens. The evil spirit’s cast out. Then he goes back and finds the house swept clean and put in order. So he brings seven MORE evil spirits, and they go back. And the man ends up worse than BEFORE.

That’s the sort of HALF-solution that PEOPLE bring. When you don’t change the INTERNALS. When you don’t transform our NATURE.

So what’s the answer? What HOPE is there? Don’t look to politics, or economics, or religious systems. Don’t look to HUMAN SOLUTIONS. It begins with LISTENING to Jesus, and OBEYING him. V27. A woman calls out, “Blessed is the mother who gave birth to you.” Jesus replies, “Blessed rather are those who HEAR THE WORD OF GOD, and OBEY IT.”

And then he goes on to describe how that’s the problem with the current wicked generation. They WON’T LISTEN. And they won’t SEE.

Even GENTILES have done a better job of listening and seeing. Like the queen of Sheba, v31, who travelled from the ends of the earth to LISTEN to Solomon’s wisdom. And now Jesus is here, who’s GREATER than Solomon. So LISTEN to him!

Or the people of Nineveh, v32. For all their wickedness, when Jonah preached to them. They LISTENED and REPENTED. And now, one greater than JONAH is here. So LISTEN to him.

Or to put it another way. V33. He’s THE LIGHT ON A STAND. There for everyone to see. He’s not hidden away in secret. So LOOK to the light. And when you do, the light will fill your whole BODY. It’s a very strange way to describe it. But I think it’s about how the light of Jesus CHANGES YOU ON THE INSIDE. The change to your NATURE God promised back in Ezekiel 36.

Hear and obey. Look to the light and your body will be full of light. Two ways of saying the same thing. The key to changing society and all that’s wrong in the world is JESUS. And he begins by working IN YOU.

And from v37 he gets to work on what’s wrong with us ON THE INSIDE. So LISTEN and OBEY.

He’s at a Pharisee’s house for dinner. And when he doesn’t ceremonially wash before the meal, the Pharisee’s surprised.

At which point Jesus has a few hard truths to tell about focussing on EXTERNALS, when INTERNALS are the real problem. V39.

“Now then, you Pharisees clean the OUTSIDE of the cup and dish, but INSIDE you are full of greed and wickedness.

He’s talking about the Pharisee’s surprise at Jesus not washing his hands. Jesus’ point is it’s more important to be clean on the INSIDE. To do something about GREED AND WICKEDNESS. Focus on THAT! V41. Be generous to those who need it. That shows you’re brand new and clean on the INSIDE.

Same point in v42. Focussing on giving to God a tenth of everything, right down to the herb garden. That’s EXTERNALS. That doesn’t bring God’s kingdom in. But there’s no justice for others, or love for God. Do THOSE things, and show you’re new on the INSIDE.

And that’s the key to changing society. It’s only INTERNAL, PERSONAL change that can lead to lasting STRUCTURAL change.

Or v43, the problem is they love being the CENTRE OF ATTENTION / more than they love GOD. It’s focussing on all the wrong things.

And when, v45, a scribe takes offence at Jesus’ rebukes, Jesus turns his attention to THAT GROUP, v46. Experts in the law, they think the solution to changing society is MORE RULES. So they pile law upon law, until there’s so many laws for people to keep, they’re CRUSHED UNDER THE WEIGHT. Rather than making things CLEARER, they’ve just made it more confusing and more difficult. They haven’t HELPED people live out hearing and obeying. They haven’t emphasised justice and mercy and love for God.

And then from v47 Jesus brings up another example of how they haven’t heard and obeyed God’s word. In the past God spoke his word through prophets. But the forefathers refused to listen and they killed them. And then these law experts come along and build tombs for the prophets. Which is just FINISHING THE WORK of their rebellious forefathers. It’s putting the icing on the cake their ancestor’s baked, with their disobedience. And makes them just as culpable.

Rather than hearing and obeying God’s word IN THE PRESENT, they’re too busy looking after the tombs of dead prophets.

And so Jesus delivers his verdict, v52. “WOE to you experts of the law. Rather than make things CLEARER, you’ve made it HARDER. Rather than helping to bring in God’s kingdom, you’ve STOPPED people entering it.”

And so Jesus turns his attention back to his disciples, at the start of Ch 12. With a fairly obvious application for them. “Be on your guard against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.” The day’s coming when all the secrets of hypocrites will be REVEALED.

Ignore THEM, and instead listen to JESUS. Hear and obey HIS words. See his light, and let it CHANGE you – from the INSIDE. When God’s done that work in you, that’s when the kingdom will begin to grow in the world. In the structures and organisations and societies around us.

Did you notice that order of things at the start of v1? Only Luke mentions it.

12:1 Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another,

Big problems with society! So what does Jesus do? Does he speak to the whole crowd? Tell them to stop trampling on one another? No. He speaks to his disciples. They’re the key. The priority. God’s kingdom begins to come in each person.

And that person hears and obeys God, and allows him to be king a little more each day in his life. And he lives out justice and mercy to OTHER PEOPLE. And so God’s kingdom grows, little by little. One person at a time. Like a mustard seed growing into a huge tree. Or a pinch of yeast affecting the whole lump of dough.

That’s the way God answers the Lord’s Prayer. And it’s all God’s work.

It’s GOD’S work that enables the Christian to fearlessly face persecuting opponents, v4. After all, the worst they can do is kill THE BODY. Much wiser to fear God, who has power over HELL.

And it’s GOD’S work that enables the Christian not to fear the WORLD. But instead to trust his care and protection.

And it’s GOD’S work, THROUGH HIS HOLY SPIRIT, who enables the Christian to acknowledge Jesus before men. He’ll give you the courage to SPEAK, and the words to say.

And so we come full circle. The first step to change/ is God at work INSIDE YOU. Way back in Ezekiel 36, God had promised that one day he’d not just bring back a nation from exile. But he’d bring new life to dead hearts. He’d take out their old heart of stone, and replace it with a new, loving, obedient heart. And he promised to give HIS SPIRIT to people, and MOVE them to follow his laws.

And in the fullness of time, Jesus came, and he LIVED the kingdom. And he died and was raised to life. And when he returned to the Father’s right hand, he poured out his Holy Spirit onto people, fulfilling God’s promise.

And so we’re now ABLE to live the kingdom. Not perfectly, but GENUINELY. We’re able to hear God’s word and OBEY it. And WANT to obey it. And to move beyond greed and wickedness. And show justice and mercy to others.

And we’re able to be on our guard against HYPOCRISY, and to live CONSISTENTLY. And to move beyond FEAR, and instead TRUST our Heavenly Father. And to courageously SPEAK UP for Jesus as we have opportunity.

All by the power of his Spirit at work within us. Who God LOVES to give us. As Jesus promised in v13 of Ch 11,

13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!”

We’ve got opportunities in the next few weeks to MAKE A DIFFERENCE. To vote in our local elections. To register our opinion in the postal survey on a redefinition of marriage.

And there are all the ONGOING issues you can be active in. Of globalisation and climate change and refugee and asylum seeker policy. And changing structures and systems will improve some of that.

But what Australia and the world needs MOST is for God’s kingdom to come. As he pours out his Spirit into men and women and children. As he replaces their dead, sinful, selfish hearts with living, warm, obedient ones. As he makes them NEW.

And so, above all, we need to PRAY. And PRAY. And PRAY.

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power and the glory are yours, now and forever, Amen.

 

Luke 1:1-4: The reliability of the Bible

Back in the days of street directories. Before smart phones and GPS. Sometimes I’d drive around a brand new subuubdrb looking for a house. But my street directory just showed an empty field. There were no streets. I’d be LOST, because my street directory was OUT OF DATE. It was useless for modern life.

And that’s what MANY people today think about the BIBLE. IRRELEVANT. They say it’s an OLD book that reflects an OLD WAY of thinking about the world. It says things we now know are scientifically impossible, or culturally outdated, or historically unreliable. Which, people think, makes it as useless to modern life as an out of date street directory.

And we can add a FOURTH objection to that. Many people suspect it’s INTERNALLY INCONSISTENT. That with all the different authors and points of view, it CONTRADICTS itself. (Although my experience is that most people who SAY that have never really STUDIED the Bible).

For example, here’s a quote from the well-known atheist, Richard Dawkins. “The Bible is… a chaotically cobbled-together anthology of disjointed documents, composed, revised, translated, distorted and improved by hundreds of anonymous authors, editors and copyists, unknown to us and mostly unknown to each other, spanning nine centuries.”dawkins

Now, I actually want to AGREE with some of his observations. Just not his CONCLUSIONS. Yes, the Bible is a collection of different books. 66 books in a range of literature styles. History, biography, prophecy, poetry, even wildly symbolic apocalyptic literature. There are around 40 different human authors, from different educational and cultural backgrounds, across Asia, Europe and the Middle East, spanning something like 1500 years, and writing in three different languages.

But where Dawkins sees it as CHAOTIC AND DISJOINTED, my experience, and plenty of people who’ve spent their life studying it, is that it’s INCREDIBLY CONSISTENT. That, from start to finish, it tells ONE COHERENT STORY.

The fact that it addresses the biggest questions of life, death, eternity, mankind and God makes that even MORE amazing. They’re the questions people have very different opinions about. And yet, these are the questions the authors of the Bible tackle head on, chapter after chapter. And they do it THOROUGHLY CONSISTENTLY.

One SIMPLE example is the different accounts of Jesus’ life in the gospels. We get FOUR DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVES on the same events. They’re not IDENTICAL, but COMPLEMENTARY. And TAKEN TOGETHER, they give us a comprehensive, but not contradictory, description of Jesus’ life.

In fact, if they WERE identical, we’d be SUSPICIOUS. When police investigators are comparing eyewitness statement, they look for small differences. If the stories are identical, it’s evidence they’ve been rehearsed, and made-up.

If it was simply a HUMAN book, we would EXPECT it to be contradictory and inconsistent. The fact that it’s NOT is evidence that it is what it CLAIMS to be. The work of the ONE DIVINE AUTHOR, the one true creator God. And that it tells the one story about how he MADE us, and how he’s working to WIN US BACK to himself.

That’s the INCONSISTENCY question. The SCIENCE question we’re going to look at in a few weeks. As well as the question of MIRACLES, (the SUPERNATURAL), and how THAT fits with a modern world view.

Let’s think about the claim that the Bible is culturally outdated and irrelevant. The ideas people have MOST problems with are to do with the equality of women, acceptance of slavery, and the condemnation of homosexuality.

We’ll look at what the Bible teaches about homosexuality in a month or so. But let me make a few general comments about these sorts of objections.

The first comment is that there’s profit in researching in depth. Rather than just skimming the surface. Because the Bible might not be saying what you THINK it’s saying.

For example, slavery in New Testament times was very different to the African slave trade of the eighteenth century. People in debt could enter VOLUNTARILY into slavery until their debt was paid. They could EARN their FREEDOM. It wasn’t for life. And a slave’s owner had claim only on his WORK, not his LIFE. And it wasn’t based on ONE RACE enslaved to ANOTHER. The early Christian church had slaves and masters sitting side by side, as brothers and sisters.

Another general comment is to recognise that our culture and time in history is DIFFERENT, not necessarily BETTER than OTHER cultures and times. To assume everything is better here and now is cultural arrogance. For example, we emphasise individual choice and forgiveness. Other cultures emphasise group responsibility, and justice, and loyalty. But who’s to say which is primitive and which is progressive. Perhaps our grandchildren will look back on some of our dominant cultural views and think WE were backward.

What a shame to stay away from the Bible because it contradicts something you value! Especially if THAT VALUE ends up, itself, looking outdated and wrong.

Another point is to consider how dismissing the Bible ends up dismissing GOD. If you rip out of the Bible every part you don’t like, it means you can never have a personal relationship with the God who WROTE it.

Let me explain. In a true relationship, the other person has to be able to interact with and challenge you. Otherwise, they’re a PET, or a ROBOT.

In the movie, The Stepford Wives, the husbands of Stepford have their wives turned into robots who always agree with them. Their wives may be beautiful, and the marriages might be peaceful. But they’re not a real relationship. If you refuse to allow God to contradict you, then you’ve got a “Stepford” God, a God you’ve made yourself, not one you can have a genuine relationship with.

And a FINAL point to make when we have objections to the Bible’s teaching. Don’t confuse the MAJOR themes of the Bible with LESS important ideas. A MAJOR teaching of the Bible is what Jesus is like, and what he DID. A MINOR theme is the roles of husbands and wives. The MINOR theme DEPENDS on the MAJOR theme. Don’t worry about gender roles until you figure out what you think about CENTRAL teachings of the faith.

Christians THEMSELVES have all sorts of ideas about these MINOR themes. But they can all stand together and say the Apostles’ Creed, that they believe Jesus rose from the dead on the third day.

Tim Keller, in his book “The Reason for God”, makes the great point, keller“If Jesus is the Son of God, then we have to take his teaching seriously, including his confidence in the authority of the whole Bible. If he’s NOT who he says he is, why should we CARE what the Bible says about anything else,” like gender roles.

Make you mind up about the MAJOR points FIRST, then worry about the MINORS.

That’s a few thoughts on the problem of the Bible being culturally irrelevant. The FOURTH problem people have with the Bible is they consider it’s not HISTORICALLY ACCURATE.

And the Bible certainly opens itself up the possibility of being historically accurate. Because it claims to be HISTORICAL. The writings of Buddhism are not in danger of being disproven historically. Because they don’t make historical CLAIMS.

But whether in the Old Testament or the NEW, the Bible is SET in history. Especially the most important claim of all – that Jesus rose from the dead. And plenty of people have assumed, in the past, that it’s UNHISTORICAL, because there was no supporting evidence for some of the people, places or events it describes.

But the more we discover, the more we find how ACCURATE the history of the Bible is.

For example, an expert in Middle Eastern Archaeologlueckgy, Nelson Glueck, has written,

“No archeological discovery has ever controverted [overturned] a Biblical reference. Scores of archeological findings have been made which confirm in clear outline or in exact detail historical statements in the Bible. And, by the same token, proper evaluation of Biblical descriptions has often led to amazing discoveries.”

For example, King David wasn’t mentioned in any historical source other than the Bible. And sceptics doubted he was real. But in 1993, a 3000 year old inscription was unearthed that mentioned David, the King of Israel. Time magazine concluded,

“The sceptics’ claim that King David never existed is now hard to defend.”

The same doubt was held about Pontius Pilate, who sentenced Jesus to death. That is, until 1961, when archaeologists working in Caesarea Maritama unearthed a Latin inscription that mentioned Puntius Pilate, Prefect of Judea.bethesda

Or the Pool of Bethesda in Jerusalem. It was where Jesus healed the paralysed man in John 5. John says it had five covered colonnades, which seemed so unusual it was assumed to be an unhistorical literary creation. But scientists have recently identified a site in Jerusalem as being the Pool of Bethesda, and have even identified the five covered sides.

There’s plenty more examples we could mention. And I’d encourage you to do some research of your own. But perhaps you can just take the word of the former Director of the Australian Institutewilson of Archaeology, Dr. Clifford Wilson*, who said:

“It is remarkable that where confirmation is possible and has come to light, the Bible stands investigation in ways that are unique in all literature. Its superiority to attack, its capacity to withstand criticism, its amazing facility to be proved right after all, are all staggering by any standards of scholarship. Seemingly assured results “disproving” the Bible have a habit of backfiring. Over and over again the Bible has been vindicated.”

The Historical accuracy of the gospels

But what I want to spend a few minutes considering is the historical accuracy of the Biblical Gospels. The four accounts of Jesus’ life. Because plenty of people will say they’re full of LEGENDS. Perhaps with a GRAIN of truth, but exaggerated. ENHANCED over the years, as the story is passed from one person to another. Like a story about catching a big fish. The more times you tell the story, the bigger the fish becomes.

Now, I specify the BIBLICAL gospels. Because they’ve come under attack in recent years from people peddling the claims of NON-biblical gospels. Like the Gospel of Thomas. Or the Gospel of Mary, or Judas. That say a whole lot of weird things about Jesus.

But if we take a closer LOOK at those alternatives, we find it’s unlikely there’s much truth in THEM. They were written one to two hundred years after the Biblical gospels were written.

By comparison, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were written between 20 to 60 years after Jesus. In fact, Matthew and John were probably written by EYEWITNESSES THEMSELVES. Two of the 12 disciples. And Mark and Luke were written by people who personally interviewed eyewitnesses.

We read before from Luke Ch 1, where Luke described the way he RESEARCHED his work.

1:1 Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, 2 just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. 3 Therefore, SINCE I MYSELF HAVE CAREFULLY INVESTIGATED EVERYTHING FROM THE BEGINNING, it seemed good also to me to WRITE AN ORDERLY ACCOUNT FOR YOU, most excellent Theophilus, 4 so that you may know the CERTAINTY of the things you have been taught.

He wasn’t an eyewitness HIMSELF. But he RESEARCHED the events of Jesus’ life. He SPOKE to eyewitnesses. And he had plenty of OTHER writings AS WELL. (Notice he says many others have drawn up an account of the events of Jesus’ life). He read THOSE.

And then he carefully RECORDED it all. Choosing and arranging his version. And he produced an ORDERLY ACCOUNT.

And the purpose? That his reader, Theophilus, might be CERTAIN of the things he believed. That he would have EVIDENCE for his FAITH. Solid SUPPORT for the things he believed.

Notice Christianity isn’t about faith INSTEAD of evidence. It’s not ONE OR THE OTHER. It’s not mindless or blind faith. It’s thoughtful and considered.

So let’s USE our brain.

If the gospel writers had INVENTED the stories about Jesus, there would have been plenty of people still alive who would DENY them. They’d say, “No. It WASN’T like that. I was THERE!”

But that didn’t happen.lewis

And the stories themselves have a RING of truth about them. There’s little details in the gospels that are the memories of eyewitnesses. Like the green grass the crowd sat down on before they were fed. Or the Jesus was sleeping on a cushion at the back of the boat during the storm. CS Lewis, an expert in Greek literature says the gospels are far too detailed to be like every other ancient work of fiction.

ANOTHER reason the gospels RING TRUE is they’re TOO UNFLATTERING to be made up. Why would the writers make up a story about Jesus asking God in the garden of Gethsemane if he could AVOID the cross? Or why make up Jesus crying out that God had abandoned him on the cross?

It would have OFFENDED or CONFUSED potential followers.

And if the disciples MADE UP the stories about Jesus, they wouldn’t include details that make them seem foolish and petty and jealous and cowardly. And no one would DARE repeat a story about Peter, the leader of the early church, denying Jesus unless it was actually TRUE.

But it’s not just the gospels that ring true. There’s the behaviour of the disciples themselves. Almost from the start they were persecuted. They were imprisoned, and beaten, and even executed. And yet, they never changed their story. People don’t die for something they know is a lie. At the very least, they genuinely BELIEVED the events of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection had happened.

But it’s not just the gospels themselves. Or the behaviour of Christians. There’s also the support of other contemporary writings. Like the Jewish historian Josephus, who mentions lots of details that AGREE with the gospels. And NOTHING that contradicts it. The same with the Roman senator and historian Tacitus, who writes in the second century that Christus, the founder of the Christian faith was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius.

Neither of these men were Christians. They had nothing to gain by making things up. In fact Tacitus calls Christianity a “pernicious superstition.” And yet they support that the history of the gospels is TRUE.

SO, rather than the Bible being UNHISTORICAL, there’s plenty of evidence that it’s SOLIDLY historical. Reliable.

But don’t take MY word for it. Any more than you should take the word of the DOUBTERS. Read it for yourself. Read it with an open, enquiring mind.

If it’s NOT true, you’ve lost NOTHING. But if it IS true. If the God who made you has really communicated to us through it, then there’s EVERYTHING to GAIN.spurgeon

C H Spurgeon was asked how he defended the authority of the Bible to non-believers. He said, “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a LION! Unchain it, and it will defend itself!”

IN other words, the BEST way to work out what you think about the Bible isn’t to read what other people think. But to read the Bible for YOURSELF.

And the BEST thing you can learn from it is about JESUS HIMSELF. Especially the ALMOST unbelievable truth that he ROSE FROM THE DEAD. Which we read about earlier. About how he appeared to eyewitnesses. Who couldn’t believe it. And who Jesus had to give SOLID EVIDENCE to. (He showed them the holes in his hands and feet. And he ate some fish to prove he wasn’t a ghost, or a vision).

But not just that. He showed a couple of disciples how THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS (that is the Old Testament) was ALL ABOUT HIM. How it described him, and predicted him. And prepared the way for him.

Which, by the way, shows that JESUS HIMSELF trusted the authority of the Bible. Which is a pretty good reason for YOU to trust it TOO.

Is that what you’re DOING? Are you TREATING the Bible as God’s communication to you?

If you ARE, it certainly should affect the PRIORITY you give it. How much ATTENTION you pay to it. How much TIME you actually spend READING it. And whether you really PAY ATTENTION when you read, or just let the words WASH OVER YOU.

And if you see it as God’s word, you should come to it with HUMILITY, not PRIDE. You see, it takes a certain HUMILITY to recognise the authority of someone else over you. Do you JOYFULLY submit to the Bible’s instructions? Or is there a resentment? A proud resilience to bowing to it? A feigned, rather than genuine, interest?

James 1:23 says the Bible is like a mirror that reflects what you’re truly like. Not on the OUTSIDE. But the INSIDE, where it MATTERS. You’re a fool if you look in the mirror, then walk away unchanged. Don’t just LISTEN to the word, DO WHAT IT SAYS, says James. That will show whether you think it’s God’s authoritative word or not.

If you let the Bible soak into you, you can’t remain the same. It’s POWERFUL. 2 Timothy 3: 15-16* says it’s able to make you WISE FOR SALVATION. Saved from judgment, and beating death – just like Jesus.

And it teaches and rebukes and trains in righteousness. So that you’ll be THROUGHLY EQUIPPED.

And it’s LIGHT that shines into your life. It guides, and gives purpose and freedom. It sets priorities and direction.

And it’s WATER that refreshes. That gives joy and hope and blessing and strength in the toughest of trials.

May this be OUR prayer. The prayer of the Psalmist.

Psalm 119:16 I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. 18 Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law… 32 I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free. 33 Teach me, O LORD, to follow your decrees; then I will keep them to the end. 34 Give me understanding, and I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart. 35 Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight. Amen