Hate will drive people to do hateful things. In today’s Bible reading, we read that the chief priests schemed to kill Lazarus because people were following Jesus after seeing Lazarus raised from the dead. (John 12:10-11) Think about that. The chief priests plotted to kill not just Jesus, but Jesus’ friend, Lazarus.
“Don’t murder” was the Sixth Commandment. (Exodus 20:13) By the First Century, the Jewish leaders heaped on hundreds of additional laws to the Mosaic Law through their commentary on the Law and their commentary on the commentary on the Law. That the chief priests could resort to murder reveals how derranged these men had become.
Meanwhile, Lazarus walks around, telling people about his Friend. Many more people believe Jesus as a result of Lazarus’ testimony. It’s hard to argue about Jesus’ authority as the Messiah when one of His most vocal followers walked out of a tomb the day before.
I’ve said it before, you don’t have to be a trained theologian to tell your story to your friends, family, and neighbors. All you have to do is tell what Jesus has done in your life. You may not have been delivered from a physical tomb, but you can tell people how you have been delivered from a life of sin and death. You can tell people about how you once lived as a child of wrath, as God’s enemy. Tell them what Jesus’ death on the cross accomplished for you. And invite them to give their lives to Him as you have.
Today’s Bible reading includes a familiar passage where a woman is brought to Jesus who was caught in the act of adultery. (John 8:4) Jesus tells the Jewish leaders to go ahead and stone her, with the condition that the first one to throw the first rock must be completely innocent. The accusers walk away, and Jesus tells her that He doesn’t condemn her. End of story. Right?
There are several things I need to highlight here. Yes, the Jewish Law prescribed death by stoning for those guilty of adultery. (Leviticus 20:10) Note that the death penalty was for both of the partners committing adultery. Where was her partner? Did they let the man go? And what were these Jewish leaders doing when the act was being committed? Where were they? How did they know?
Second, her accusers left her alone with Jesus Who tells her that He didn’t condemn her. But He didn’t just leave it there. He says, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, and from now on do not sin anymore.” John 8:11 (CSB)
In telling her He doesn’t condemn her and letting her go, Jesus never condones the woman’s sin. Never. Instead, He uses the situation as a teachable moment for the woman. And for us. Instead of sentencing the woman to death and participating in her execution (as He was obligated to do under the Law), Jesus extends grace and mercy, demonstrating that there is more to dealing with sin than serving as judge, jury, and executioner. God offers a clean slate and an opportunity to start over.
None of us is the judge, jury, and executioner. As Believers and representers of Jesus Christ, we are to help bring about restoration to the brokenhearted. Restoration and rehabilitation is a big deal in the Kingdom of God. But a big problem with bringing restoration and rehabilitation is that as long as the person hasn’t dealt with their sin, there can be no restoration. There can be no rehabilitation.
Look at how Jesus dealt with the self-righteous religious leaders. Look at how Paul dealt with self-righteousness individuals in the early chapters of Romans. Neither Jesus nor Paul swept sin under the rug. Both men dealt with sin head-on. And when the people recognized their sin, both men were there with an extended hand to help the repentant sinner to “go and sin no more.”
All of us are guilty of sin. I don’t know what sins you are guilty of. The reason we sin is because we’re sinners. But have you dealt with your sin condition? Have you taken the First Step (admit that you have a problem)?
God offers peace with Himself, forgiveness, and restoration as we deal with our sin, and not a moment sooner. That’s the very purpose of the Law: to expose our sin and our hopeless condition. But we don’t get to experience the Good News until we’ve dealt with the Bad News.
Don’t cheapen grace! Deal with sin as soon as God reveals it to you. Then, repent of your sin and trust Him to empower you to “go and sin no more.”
When the New Testament writers told their stories, they had the memorized and printed Word of Scripture to draw from. Their Bible (our Old Testament) was written in Hebrew and Aramaic. It had been recorded in the language of the common people at the time.
By the First Century, many people in what is now Israel still spoke Aramaic. But many others throughout Asia Minor and Southern Europe spoke Greek. Scholars observed differences between Attic Greek and the New Testament Greek and thought that it was some kind of “Holy Spirit” Greek, something that only appeared in the New Testament.
However, at the end of the 1800s and the beginning of the 1900s, many documents were discovered, written in this new form of Greek. These documents were everyday types of documents, not Scriptures. Scholars discovered that this new Greek wasn’t special at all. It just happened to be the language spoken by common, everyday people throughout the area conquered by Alexander the Great. This new Greek was called Koine (pronounced COIN-ay) Greek, or common Greek.
Side Note: We in Western Christianity have the Bible in our common vernacular than at any other time in history. While many of our homes have the Bible in several English translations, many other parts of the world only have the Bible in one translation and it isn’t even in their Mother Tongue because translators haven’t yet learned their language. I plan to share some news about a new tremendous translation effort in the coming months.
You may have heard the expression, “You may be the only Bible many people ever read.“? I think the idea came from 2 Corinthians 3:2-3, in today’s daily Bible reading.
Now, if that expression is true, what do people conclude about the Bible they read?
Do they see condemnation and pain? Do they see encouragement and comfort? Do they see a religious holier-than-thou attitude? Do they see redeeming love?
Oftentimes the Bible people read when they look at us reflects the Bible we read when we were growing up. I know a lot of Believers who grew up under “hellfire and brimstone” preaching. They never heard of God’s love. One friend said she always felt that God was mad at her and if she messed up, He might squish her. Many Believers today have only heard of a loving God and have heard nothing of God’s righteous judgement.
Unfortunately, those who know only God’s judgment and those who know only God’s love have an incomplete view of God. Despite the common belief, the God of the Old Testament is the same God we see in the New Testament. He doesn’t change. (Hebrews 13:8)
If we are the only Bible some people ever read, then when people read us, they need to see a complete view of God, or as complete a view as possible, given that we are fallible, errant, and not inspired. That can only happen as we read across the genres of the Bible, the Old Testament, the New Testament, the Prophecy, the History, the Poetry and Wisdom Literature, the Teaching Literature, and the Apocolyptic Literature. As we read, study, and apply the written Word, our attitudes, our beliefs, and our behaviors will begin to reveal a more complete Bible for our friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers to read.
Spend a few minutes today contemplating the statement, “You may be the only Bible some people ever read.” Ask God to show you how you can reveal a more complete view of God in your attitudes, your beliefs, and your behavior.
Realize that you may be the only Bible that people read. Help them read between the lines. Tell them how God has made a difference in your life. Give them the Gospel message in words, not just actions. Without hearing the Gospel message, they will never come to a saving faith.
So faith comes from what is heard,
and what is heard comes through the message about Christ.
Romans 10:17 (CSB)
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!
In today’s Bible reading we fast forward a few years and Jesus and His cousin John (the Baptizer) are about thirty years old. John steps into the Jordan River and preaches that people should repent of their sins and be baptized.
By today’s standards, John was a very politically-incorrect preacher. Nowhere do we hear him talk about self-esteem. Nowhere do we hear him say that God loves everyone and has a wonderful plan for them. Nowhere do we hear him talk about God’s grace and mercy. Nowhere do we hear him talk about how God wants you to have health and wealth if you would only have enough faith. Nowhere does he apologize for offending his hearers. .
No, John simply preaches the Law. He preaches the bad news that people are sinners and in need of forgiveness. Sinners? Surely not! Where is the gospel, the good news?
Recent conversations with Facebook friends have revealed to me the massive divide between what I believe the Bible teaches and what they believe. For these friends, our deepest need is to be saved from not being good stewards of our planet. To be Christlike is to be more loving and accepting, and less judgmental of others. There is no mention of the word or even the concept of sin as described in the Bible. There was no admission of guilt for any sin on their part. Sin is a problem other, less tolerant people must deal with. These were people who were raised in the church. And today, they are leaders in mainline churches.
Until people hear and understand their helpless, fallen condition (the bad news), they won’t have a desire for deliverance from that condition (the good news). Look back at our earlier readings from Paul’s letter to the church at Rome. He begins with the bad news.
Look at the response of John’s audience in Luke 3:10, 12, 14. The exclaim, “What shall we do?” The Philippian Jailer asked the same question in Acts 16:30.
It isn’t until Romans Chapter 8 that Paul says that there is no condemnation for believers. (Romans 8:1) From that statement, Paul strongly implies that non-believers are still very much under God’s judgment.
Have you come to a point in your life where you realized that in light of God’s holiness, you have absolutely no claim to spending eternity with Him, much less walking with Him on this side of eternity? You may be better than many (or most) other people, but how do you compare with Jesus, the perfect man who was tempted just like we are, yet was without sin? (Hebrews 4:15)
I’m not just asking if you have sinned. Everyone (except Jesus) sins. I’m asking if you have ever come to God and confessed that you have offended your Creator and that you have an issue with a sin condition that separates you from His holiness?