Dr. Luke continues his narrative about Jesus’ trial in today’s Bible reading. Pontius Pilate is convinced that Jesus is not guilty of anything worthy of the death penalty. He learns that Jesus is from Herod’s district so he sends Jesus to Herod. Herod can’t find anything worthy of death either, so he sends Jesus back to Pilate.
Pilate is in a quandary. What to do with Jesus?
He offers to have Jesus flogged and the religious leaders aren’t interested. Actually, the only thing they’re interested in is Jesus’ execution at the hands of the Romans. If the Romans kill Jesus, then they can always claim that their hands are clean. To them, it doesn’t matter that Jesus is not guilty of breaking the Roman Law. It doesn’t matter that Jesus is not guilty of breaking the Jewish Law. It doesn’t matter that they have to lie — breaking the Jewish Law — to get rid of Him.
Jesus’ only offense is upsetting these religious leaders’ apple cart. He humbly came on the scene without any fanfare, miraculously healing people from lifelong illnesses, delivering people from spiritual oppression, and feeding crowds of hungry people. And He spoke with authority, not as the religious leaders did. (Luke 4:32, Mark 1:22)
How could it be that so many religious leaders could hate someone so bitterly that they are willing to lie and send an innocent man to His death?
The people loved Jesus and He loved them. And that ticked off the religious leaders. The people were supposed to look up to them. The people were supposed to be impressed with them. The people were to love them.
Anger, rage, and jealousy have driven people to do things they wouldn’t have done on their own. When you add more and more people with more and more anger, rage, and jealousy, you end up with a mob rule of anarchy. The religious leaders wouldn’t listen to reason. They had already moved past that.
So Pilate decided what to do with Jesus. He
One of the criminals crucified with Jesus decided what to do with Jesus. He joined the mocking crowd, “If you’re the Messiah, save yourself!”
The other criminal crucified with Jesus decided what he would do with Jesus. He defended Him and then asked, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
So what will you do with Jesus? That is the question!
When you cross over to the other side of eternity and face your Judgment Day, the only question that will matter is, “What did you do with Jesus?”
It won’t matter how many times you read your Bible. It won’t matter how many people you told about Jesus. It won’t matter how fluently you pray publicly. It won’t matter if you were baptized. It won’t matter if you went through a confirmation class at church. These things won’t matter.
It won’t matter which religion you claim. It won’t matter how many people you proselytized to your religion. It won’t matter how much money you gave to charitable causes. It won’t matter how many glasses of cool water you offered to thirsty people.
All that will matter is what you did with Jesus.
This devotional was originally published July 27, 2019.
Today’s Bible reading presents the famous story of the “wee little man”, Zacchaeus.
From an early age, I felt like I could relate to Zacchaeus. Those of you who have met me know why. Neither Zacchaeus nor I will ever be the tallest man in the room! It doesn’t bother me so much now compared to my “wonder years”. At some point, I finally embraced the fact that it is what it is.
But Zacchaeus’ stature isn’t what the story is about. The Sycamore Tree isn’t what the story is about. The central focus of the story is Zacchaeus’ radical transformation from being a greedy tax collector to a repentant Christ-follower after his encounter with Jesus.
As I just typed that, I realized how strange that redundancy should sound: a repentant Christ-follower. Every Christ-follower should be marked by a changed life as a result of encountering the One we follow. And following Him involves — even requires — repentance: Turning from us and turning to Him.
Tax collectors weren’t the most popular people of Jesus’ day. Evidently, tax collectors lined their pockets with whatever extras they could exact from their taxpayers. And from Dr. Luke’s description, Zacchaeus was really good at his job. Dr. Luke even hints at that in naming Zacchaeus a “Chief Tax Collector”. (Luke 19:2)
Other than the disdain of the religious leaders that Jesus had gone to “stay with a sinful man”, Dr. Luke doesn’t give us any details of Jesus’ visit to Zacchaeus’ home. He only gives us the result of the encounter: Zacchaeus will never be the same. His behavior changes because his heart changes. An encounter with Jesus is always a heart encounter first. Then it overflows into a behavior change. In expressing his repentance (Luke 19:8), Zacchaeus promises restitution to those he has wronged. This is straight out of the Law (Leviticus 6:5, Numbers 5:6–7)
Philosophers will sometimes use the “Prime Mover Argument” in an effort to prove God’s existence. It says that everything in the universe is in constant motion. Therefore, there had to be a Prime Mover who set the first thing into motion; that Prime Mover is God.
Zacchaeus climbed the tree because he wanted to see Jesus. But before Zacchaeus needed the tree, God put that tree where Zacchaeus would need it. God is always the “Prime Mover”. God is the One Who seeks. Jesus said that the Father seeks spirit-and-truth worshipers. (John 4:23) That’s a good thing! Because on our own, not one of us would seek God! (Romans 3:10–12) And in our reading today, Jesus said that He was sent to seek and save the lost. (Luke 19:10) And the day our first father sinned, it was God who was seeking. (Genesis 3:8–9)
The religious leaders criticized Jesus for being with sinners. The underhanded accusation was that Jesus was with hanging out with sinners because he was one, too. But note that in every situation where Jesus hung out with sinners, the sinners changed but Jesus didn’t. Every situation. He never compromised on the Truth of His message. And neither should we.
It is admirable when Christians reach outside our comfort zone and roll up our sleeves to rub elbows with people unlike ourselves. But in reaching out, we must be very careful to “love the sinner” and not share in their sin, nor encourage them in their sin. Like Jesus, believers should love the sinner out of, and away from, his/her sin.
In case you’ve missed this major theme, everyone is a sinner. Our goal in discipleship/becoming more like Jesus is to become in our experience who we already are in Christ Jesus. In Jesus, we are saints. But until we cross over to the other side of eternity, we will struggle with becoming more saintly in our beliefs, our attitudes and our behavior, and less as a sinner.
The Christian life isn’t about behavior change. If it were, it would be just like all of the other religions. Instead, the Christian life is about having a relationship with Jesus Christ. But as we grow in our relationship with Jesus, our behavior will change. Just like Zacchaeus!
This devotional was originally published July 23, 2019.
“the thought and practice especially of various cults of late pre-Christian and early Christian centuries distinguished by the conviction that matter is evil and that emancipation comes through gnosis (esoteric knowledge of spiritual truth held by the ancient Gnostics to be essential to salvation)”
Paul strongly demonstrated that Gnosticism is incompatible with Christianity as he talked about Jesus coming in the flesh and that the mystery hidden for the ages has been revealed in Jesus.
Paul’s statement in Colossians 2:9, “The entire fullness of God dwells in Jesus’ body” flies in the face of the Gnostic belief in the “evil” physical realm.
And the modern concept of being a “spiritual person” (v. 18) apart from having a relationship with Jesus Christ is right out of the Gnostic belief system.
Is your belief system based on a “spiritual tradition” that’s been handed down from generation to generation? Or is your belief system based on the infallible Word of God?
The integrity of the Bible has been preserved through generations is not merely a “spiritual tradition”. It is grounded in the reality of time and space. There is no special knowledge that Christians are to seek, only a knowledge of God as revealed in the person of Jesus Christ. Knowing God is eternal life (John 17:3)
If you believe that a person can be a “spiritual person” and as such, be blessed with a heavenly reward, you need to go back and re-read Colossians Chapter 2.
Yes, we are to be “spiritual” people, but that spirituality is eternally linked with life in the Spirit, based on the Word of God.
And that’s why I’m writing these devotionals this year. I want to help you to see the importance and practicality of God’s Word in your life. I want you to be “rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, and overflowing with gratitude.” (Colossians 2:6–7, CSB)
This devotional was originally published June 21, 2019.
Paul paints a pretty grim picture of fallen mankind in today’s Bible reading. We saw him paint the same picture a few weeks ago in the beginning few chapters of Romans.
He says we were dead. He says we were alienated from God. He says we lived according to our fleshly desires (that’s all we had!). He says we lived according to our enemy’s rules. We were by nature children of wrath. I can’t think of anything he could have missed. There is nothing positive that Paul says about us in our lost, fallen condition. Nothing. And then two of my favorite words….
While all of these bad things were true of us, God steps in and makes all things new. He makes all things good. He makes all things right so that we might be justified — to have a right standing before Him, not just on judgment day, but today. Jesus served as the final, ultimate, once-for-all atoning sacrifice that made all things right between a holy God and a fallen humanity.
In Romans 5:8, Paul puts it this way. “God shows His love for us us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us.”
God made us alive. He raised us up and sat us next to Jesus in the heavenly places so that at some point in the future, he can display the immeasurable riches of His grace through kindness. (Ephesians 2:5-7)
And then in just two verses, Paul drives home the fact that all of this is a miraculous work of God. The only thing we brought to the bargaining table is the sin that made Jesus’ sacrifice necessary.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Ephesians 2:8–9 (ESV)
- Grace is unmerited favor. He gave it because He wanted to.
- We have been saved. This is a passive mood in Greek. It happened to us. We didn’t do it to/for ourselves; it happened from outside of us.
- We have been saved. This is the perfect tense in Greek. Salvation is a done deal. There is nothing left for us to do to complete it.
- Salvation is through faith and it (the process of salvation) is not of our own doing.
- Salvation is the gift of God. It’s something given, not earned.
- Salvation is not of works. Again, we didn’t earn it by doing anything for it. Otherwise, by definition it wouldn’t be grace, it would be “wages“.
SEVEN TIMES IN TWO VERSES!
No one can boast of salvation. Why? Because we were passive in the process when it happened to us from outside of us, not of our own doing, but rather was a gift that we didn’t work for.
Paul highlights the fact that this was a miraculous work of God because He wanted to do it (He wasn’t obligated to do it)!
As they say, “If that doesn’t light your fire, your wood is wet!” How else could anyone respond to such a great salvation that God has given to His kids, but respond in joy and praise!
Spend some time doing that today!
There are so many things about God and His Kingdom that I don’t understand. And it seems the longer I walk with Him, the more I know… and the less I know.
In today’s Bible reading, Paul talks about a partial hardening of the hearts of Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. (Romans 11:25) I think what this means is that God has hardened their hearts — as He did to Pharaoh’s heart in Exodus 4:21 — for a time, and all for His glory. And as soon as the set number (who knows what it is?) of Gentiles are saved, God will remove the veil that covers their eyes to see God’s Kingdom at hand. Until then, God will continue to graft Gentiles into the True Vine.
I’ll repeat what I said a few days ago: we need to approach things from a Biblical, God-centered viewpoint when we ask questions about God’s unconditional election of some people. (I say “unconditional election” because there is no condition that anyone can meet that would earn God’s approval.) If no one deserves salvation in the first place, and if only a miraculous work of God can save someone, then we can only plead for God to save our family members and friends who don’t (yet) know Jesus.
Yes, plead for their salvation. Plead for their sensitivity to God’s voice. Plead for a soft, moldable heart. Plead for God to overwhelm them with a sense of His presence so that they call out to Him. Plead for opportunities for you and others to talk with them. And tell them lovingly about how good God is. For what it’s worth, lovingly telling them what God is doing in your life and how their lives can be changed will probably work out better than continually beating them over the head with a 25lb Bible every time you talk with them.
To be able to answer the question of why God would save one and not save another is above my pay grade. I have to leave that up to God because I know that He is good and His ways are always right. I have to leave it up to God, but I have to be willing to be part of bringing them to Christ. Oftentimes, we are — at least partly — the answer to our own prayers.
You may be heartbroken about a child or grandchild who no longer goes to church. Or maybe it’s a sister or a brother. Maybe it’s a friend. People can become disenfranchised with church for any number of reasons. If you’re part of the reason by being a stumbling block to them, or if you have hurt them in some other way, seek reconciliation today. Live at peace with everyone as far as you have control over the situation. (Romans 12:18)
But also realize that it isn’t about going to church. It’s about a relationship with Jesus Christ. If someone dropped out of church, it may have nothing to do with church and everything to do with not having a relationship with Jesus; in other words, they aren’t saved! Perhaps your prayers should be, “God, please bring them back!” Or perhaps your prayers should be, “God please save them!”
This devotional was originally published May 29, 2019.