Archive for May, 2021
“who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation” (Luke 20:47).
In this continuation of his warning to the disciples regarding the scribes (v.46), Jesus points out not only their opportunistic tendencies, but the contemptuous way it is done under religious pretense. Religious rhetoric has a long history of abuse; being used as a cover for hypocrisy and disobedience. Someone will say, “The Lord has given me a peace about doing this,” when it is clearly forbidden in scripture; or those who say, “Let me pray about it,” in regard to something expressly stated in God’s word that we are to be about as his people.
“Some of the scribes answered and said, ’Teacher, you have spoken well’” (Luke 20:39).
The scribes answer follows Jesus’ response to a convoluted question posed by the Sadducees regarding the resurrection of the dead (which the Sadducees do not even believe in), and the subsequent marital status of a woman widowed seven times. Do not miss the arrogance of the scribes; they think themselves to be the keepers of orthodoxy. It’s a trap to which we are all vulnerable; fashioning questions in our mind that become the litmus test of who’s orthodox/unorthodox, conservative/liberal, premillennial/post-millennial, and all the various ways we seek to categorize people. Like the scribes, personal agendas can become the means by which we include some, while excluding all others; a striking contrast to the spirit of “whosoever will may come” (Revelation 22:17).
“In His teaching He was saying; “Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places’” (Mark 12:38).
There is an understandable attraction to the pomposity and pretense of religious formalism. Such sanctimonious expression, in a setting of stained glass and ornate architecture, offers the appearance of advocacy for a higher, noble good, while at the same time keeping one’s hands clean. This is why Jesus says to not be like the scribes; dead religion is an inadequate substitute for a heart of faith that immerses itself into the brokenness of the human condition. Advocacy for life in Christ is proved out not by the decorum of religious appearances, but the life of Christ that we live out in the intersections of daily life.
“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets” (Luke 20:46).
The scribes disqualify themselves from teaching not because of their ignorance of scripture, but their corrupted behavior. That they do not conduct themselves as those entrusted with responsibilities of eternal consequence means they have not rightly understood the word of God, to the degree that it has accomplished a transformation of the heart. They are not seeking after the things of God, but settling for all the same worldly aspirations of men—power, position, prestige. All the pomp and circumstance performed behind stained glass walls, for an audience on padded pews, is but a theater for dead religion and pretentious lives. The church can never be satisfied having gathered. Our collective effectiveness, as the Church, will be realized only by our individual commitments to having been the presence of Christ in our respective worlds.
“And while all the people were listening, He said to His disciples, Beware of the scribes…(Luke 20:45-46a).
Of the ten occasions recorded in the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), where Jesus warned his disciples to “beware,” six were regarding the ruling classes of Judaism—the Pharisees, Sadducees, and the scribes. The Pharisees were the most legalistic; Sadducees the most aristocratic and political; the scribes, most scholarly. Even while all the crowd is listening, Jesus admonished his disciples directly because it is they, not the religious establishment, that has the responsibility of translating the life of faith, and what it means to be a follower of Christ for a world that is watching and listening.
“When I pondered to understand this, it was troublesome in my sight until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end” (Psalm 73:16-17).
A sanctuary offers what a theater, coliseum, auditorium, or civic center cannot. Living as salt and light isn’t all spice and bright lights. Seeking to glorify the Father in a world hostile to the things of God is spiritually, emotionally, and physically draining; creating confusion and conflict. In order to recover, recharge, regroup, and refocus, what we need isn’t another event to be attended, in the hope that we might be entertained, but a sanctuary where common minds worshipping a common Savior find refuge, rest, and renewal.
“One who is gracious to a poor man lends to the Lord” (Proverbs 19:17).
When considering the poor, our minds are conditioned to think in terms of financial hardship and economic challenge. Sometimes, however, the greater need of the poor is to be graciously acknowledged with warm courtesy, kindness, and politeness. In fact, is this not a universal need. Therefore, “to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of Mine, even to the least of them you did it to Me.”
“But the disciples understood none of these things, and the meaning of this was hidden from them, and they did not comprehend the things that were said” (Luke 18:34).
While the indwelling of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost would reveal to them what they could not understand regarding the suffering and death of Christ (v.32-33), there is a tension in this text between what was hidden from them, and what they did not comprehend. It’s akin to the, seemingly, conflicting Exodus accounts of God hardening Pharaoh’s heart (7:3), and Pharaoh hardening his own heart (8:32). There are mysteries of the faith that defy logic and explanation. Even so, we must remain nonetheless curious; filled with intellectual inquisitiveness; avoiding theologies that seek to conceptualize God into forms that are small, provincial, explainable and, thus, controllable. Beyond the crucified, resurrected, and exalted Christ, who will return again, the arrogance of theological triumphalism is to be shunned. A god scaled down to the measure of one’s own mind is but the idolatrous worship of self.
“Then He took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and all things which are written about the Son of Man will be accomplished’” (Luke 18:31).
In the verses that follow (32-33), we find six statements describing his suffering and only one regarding the resurrection. This highlights the central “sticking point” in the faith of the disciples but, also, the theological challenge in proclaiming Jesus of Nazareth as God’s Messiah. While many are shocked into a state of denial upon the death of a loved one, even the death of Jesus would bring arguments that it didn’t really happen—someone else was mistakenly crucified; a drug added to the vinegar gave only the appearance of death. That even the modern church, subconsciously, denies or ignores his death becomes glaringly evident in all of the elaborate Easter pageantry, with no acknowledgement of what happened on Good Friday. While the cross is foolishness to the perishing, for those being saved it is the power of God (1 Cor.1:18).
“And Jesus looked at him and said, ‘How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God’” (Luke 18:24)!
The only way to benefit from the teachings of Jesus is to assume he is speaking directly to you, not someone else. To read these words to the rich ruler, and how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God; that it is actually easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle (v.25), the tendency is to think only of high-profile billionaires like Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, but never ourselves. When it comes to measuring financial capacity, however, anyone reading these words would be considered rich by the majority of people within the global economy. Idolatry knows no dollar amount; it is determined by what you hold in your heart, not what you have in the bank.