Luke 22

Read Luke 22.

This lengthy chapter in Luke’s gospel detailed Jesus’s betrayal, last supper, and his religious trial by “the chief priests and the teachers of the law” (v. 66).

In between his last supper and his arrest, the disciples argued (again) about who was the greatest (vv. 23-30). Jesus assured them that they all would be great in his kingdom when he said, “I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and sit on thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (vv. 29-30).

Then he turned and spoke to Simon Peter in verse 31. He told Simon that just as Satan had requested permission to strike Job, he had also “asked to sift all of you as wheat” (v. 31b). This is a visual reference to separating the edible part of wheat from the inedible chaff that covers wheat. Satan was asking to put all the disciples through trials in order to try to separate them from their faith.

This should have been a chilling thing to hear, so Christ quickly added that he had prayed for Simon specifically “that your faith may not fail” (v. 32). But then he said, “And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” These two phrases suggest that Peter would be the first to face the trial of his faith in God and, having withstood the test with his faith in tact, he should help the other disciples as they faced tests of their faith.

But notice the phrase, “And when you have turned back” In verse 32b. This phrase indicates that Peter would struggle with the test of his faith. The specifics of that struggle were explained by Christ in verse 34 when he told Peter that he would deny Christ three times.

Peter did face the test of his faith in verses 54-62 and, as Jesus predicted, he struggled with the test. In three separate incidents, Jesus denied knowing Jesus (v. 57), being a follower of Jesus (v. 58), and even understanding what was going on with Jesus (v. 60).

So here we have one of the most vocal of Jesus’ apostles, a natural leader who was part of Jesus’ inner circle of three people, a man who had proclaimed himself ready to die with Jesus just a few hours before (v. 33) who evaded association with Jesus altogether when the pressure was on.

And yet apparently his faith did “not fail” (v. 32). It sure looks like failure, so how to we reconcile all of this?

First, we need to understand that there is a difference between a failure of faith and a failure to admit to faith in Jesus. Peter’s denial of Christ was a failure to admit to being a disciple, not a complete renunciation of Jesus. The fact that he “wept bitterly” (v. 62) after it happened shows that his faith was genuine. The problem was that his faith was also weak. In that moment, his fear of being punished with Christ outweighed his belief that God would protect him or allow him to endure the trial with Jesus. It did not mean that he no longer believed in Jesus.

Second, we need to understand that “denying Jesus” or renouncing your faith is more about a complete break with the Christian community than it is about a particular incident in someone’s life. Judas rejected Jesus; he conspired with the religious leaders to betray Jesus (vv. 4-5) which meant finding “an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present” (v. 6). That was a complete rejection of Jesus and all that he claimed to be.

Judas’s break with Christ and Christianity was premeditated and based in greed. Peter’s denial of Jesus was not premeditated and it was based in fear, not greed. What Peter did was lie about his faith in Jesus out of fear of persecution; what Judas did was completely reject Christ personally in such a way that Jesus would also be eliminated publicly.

Finally, Peter’s faith was strengthened by this trial, which is why God allows us to go through trials of faith. Later in life, tradition tells us, Peter did pay the ultimate price for following Jesus.

So what about us? There are times, aren’t there, when we are put on the spot and fail to speak up for Christ. Does that mean we are “ashamed of Jesus” and that he’ll be “ashamed of us” when he returns (Luke 9:26)?

No–or at least, not usually. Maybe someone, when put on the spot, might blurt out for the first time that he doesn’t really believe in Jesus after he had already decided that in his heart. But Peter shows that genuine Christians sometimes have weak faith; that faith may cause them to waver from publicly claiming Christ. It might even, at times, cause them to question God as we see in some of the Psalms. A true believer may have doubts and denials at times caused by weakness in faith but if you are a true believer, God will strengthen your faith over time so that you will stand for Christ later on in your life.

So, be encouraged! If Simon Peter could deny Jesus three times–after all the miracles and teachings he experienced first and–and still become a great apostle for Christ then people like us who are weak a times may fail in our walk with Christ at times. But know that God’s grace is powerful! He will strengthen you when you fail and teach you how to walk with him and stand for him when it is scary and potentially costly to be a Christian.

Luke 19

Read Luke 19.

Today’s passage described the beginning of the final week of Jesus’ life. Just before Christ entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (vv. 28-44), he told the disciples the parable of the ten minas (vv. 11-27). The purpose of this parable, according to verse 11 was, “because he was near Jerusalem and the people thought that the kingdom of God was going to appear at once.” In other words, Jesus told this story to prepare his followers for a gap of time between then and when his kingdom would arrive.

The parable accomplished three things. First, it slightly foreshadowed Christ’s rejection and and crucifixion. That is suggested in verse 14 where the subjects of the king sent a delegation to try to prevent him from becoming king. In every age, everyone who rejects the Lordship of Christ is trying to prevent him from being king; that applied especially to those who plotted against Jesus to see him crucified.

The second thing the parable accomplished was to begin preparing his followers for his ascension. Although Jesus would receive a Messianic welcome in verses 28-40, he would not literally become king over Israel during this time. As we saw in verse 12, the parable alluded to Jesus leaving, becoming king, then returning.

The third thing the parable accomplished was the main point of the parable which is to instruct us about what to do while we wait for Jesus’ return.

Waiting for Jesus’ return is not like waiting for a plane to depart. In that situation, people just sit around until the plane is ready to be boarded. Instead, we “wait” for Jesus like a pregnant woman and her husband wait for the baby to be born. They “wait” in the sense that time passes, but they also should be preparing during that time–deciding on a name for the baby, preparing a nursery, buying baby clothes and supplies and so on.

Similarly, we are waiting for the time to arrive when Jesus will return, but this parable commands us to be productive with the time. Before he left this earth, Christ commanded his disciples to make disciples, baptize and teach them. Instead of sitting around waiting as the wicked servant did in verses 20-21, we have the opportunity to invest in Jesus’ kingdom by obeying his great commission.

There are great rewards promised for those who produce for his kingdom (vv. 17-19), so this parable challenges us use the power Christ gave us, obey the commission he left us, and watch as God uses our faithfulness to his word to produce more and more believers who will enter the kingdom.

So, how are you involved productively for the increase of God’s kingdom? Have you figured out your spiritual gift and found a place to use if for God’s glory? Are you making the most of the opportunities you receive to share the gospel? Are you going on faith that God will use you if you invest into his kingdom as he commanded?

Luke 13

Read Luke 13.

A few weeks ago, workers in China built a new hospital. The hospital was needed to quarantine and treat victims of COVID-19 which was spreading rapidly.

Construction on the hospital took 10 days. The time-lapse video of it being built is very impressive.* It’s incredible how rapidly they were able to built it.

God’s kingdom doesn’t work like that. God does not build his kingdom rapidly. Instead, Jesus said it was like a mustard seed that grew into a tree (v. 19) or yeast that permeated a huge lump of dough (v. 21).

Both of these things happen slowly, imperceptibly. You can plant a mustard seed and look at it everyday. You will see that it has changed over time but you can’t see it changing in time. The growth is happening too slowly to see in real time, but it is happening.

So it is with the gospel. There have been times in church history when thousands came to Christ at the same time (Acts 2:41) but every salvation happens individually and usually those individuals believe alone or in a small cluster. Yet, everyday, all over the world, people are being saved. The church worldwide grows a little bit all the time and, when Jesus returns, we’ll enter the kingdom and see how that little mustard seed has become a massive tree.

If you’ve lost faith in God’s saving power, take heart. The kingdom of God is not a hastily assembled hospital built by people forced to work around the clock by their tyrannical government.

Instead, it is a tree, growing slowly but constantly. And you and I contribute to that growth as we share the gospel message with others.


*https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7VvV10S4QSw

Luke 7

Read Luke 7.

Jesus has gone public now and has been attracting more and more attention in his area. That attention continued as he performed miracles such as healing the dying (vv. 1-10) and raising the dead (vv. 11-17). His message was right but his actions were not what John the Baptist expected so when John–in prison–heard about Jesus actions, he sent some disciples of his to ask Jesus to identify himself (vv. 18-27).

After reassuring John through his disciples (vv. 21-23), Jesus began to probe what the people who followed Jesus thought of John the Baptist (vv. 24-27). After asking some probing questions to get people to think about the meaning of John’s life and ministry in verses 24-26, Jesus affirmed that John was a prophet, but he was a prophet plus more (prophet+) in verse 26b. According to Jesus in verse 27, John was, in fact, the forerunner prophesied in the Old Testament to Messiah.

But then Jesus raised the importance of John even further but with a twist. According to Jesus, John was the greatest mortal man who ever lived (v. 28a). That’s quite an assessment to make about anyone, but especially coming from Jesus. But then Jesus said something even more intriguing: “…yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he [John].” The most insignificant person who arrives in God’s kingdom is greater than the greatest man whoever lived in human history, according to Jesus. Why is that true?

The answer is that John–great as he was–was a sinner but the “least in the kingdom of heaven” is not a sinner. Sinners are not allowed into the kingdom of heaven, so there are no sinners there. Consequently everyone who is there is a better person than John.

The Kingdom of God must be an empty place, then, because I and everyone I know is a sinner.

That’s where Jesus comes in and why he came into the world. Jesus the man lived the sinless life that would qualify a person to enter the kingdom of God. He was able to do that as a man because he was also God. As God, he didn’t need to earn his way into the kingdom of God; it already belongs to him. So, in the great act theologians call imputation, God gave sinners access to his kingdom based on the perfect life of Christ. He imputed–credited–Christ’s righteousness to those who believe him for it.

On the opposite side of that coin, he also credited to Jesus the guilt for human sin which Jesus paid for through his death on the cross. For those who believe this message, God imputes your guilt to Christ who paid it in full and imputes Christ’s righteousness to you. That’s how you get into the kingdom of God. When you get there, God will transform you completely so that you never want to or will sin again. Thus, you will be a better human being than John the Baptist, the greatest man who ever lived.

This is an important truth for our salvation. It is one that everyone must humble himself to believe. Even the most morally upright person must admit his sin and need of salvation. But many people are too proud for that so Luke told us in verse 29 that those who knew they were sinners were getting into the kingdom while those who were really religious, according to verse 30, were missing out on what God has done.

Don’t let that be you! Don’t let your pride keep you from an eternity in God’s presence and in his kingdom.

Also, know that if you have trusted Christ, God treats you as perfect now, even though you aren’t yet. God treats you as better than John the Baptist already because he gives you credit for Christ’s perfection.

So don’t let your sins and failures discourage you. Keep growing in your faith and trusting God to change you and know that God is not counting those sins against you any more. You’re on his side now because of Jesus, so you can feel secure and forgiven while you grow to become like him.

Matthew 22

Read Matthew 22.

The parable about the wedding banquet, here in verses 1-14, is about Israel’s rejection of Jesus as Messiah. God the Father invited them to the wedding banquet and everything was ready (vv. 1-4) but Israel was too busy with their own stuff, even getting angry enough to persecute and kill some of God’s servants, the prophets (vv. 5-6).

God judged Israel (v. 7 is a veiled prophecy of the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70) and turned his attention to inviting us, the Gentiles through the gospel message (vv. 8-14).

Notice, though, that all the “bad as well as the good” (v. 10) were gathered in, you still needed an outfit appropriate for a wedding (vv. 11-12). Jesus did not explain what this meant other than verse 14’s statement that, “…many are invited, but few are chosen.” That statement does not explain the image of the wedding clothes and how it relates to the parable.

As God’s revelation continued to unfold in the New Testament, we can see clearly that the wedding clothes Jesus referenced in verses 11-12 refer to the righteousness of Christ that God credits to us by grace. When you and I put our faith in Christ, God began to treat us as if we are as righteous as Jesus Christ is, even though we are not.

Jesus’s perfect life clothes you like a garment. His atonement on the cross was applied to you when you trusted in him, washing all your sins away. But the perfect life of Jesus Christ was also gifted to you, covering your imperfections and making you acceptable in the sight of God.

You and I have a long way to go before we will actually be righteous in the sight of God. God is working on us to make us righteous people but you still belong at the wedding feast because you are covered by the righteousness of Christ.

This is why you don’t need to worry about “losing your salvation.” You didn’t earn your salvation in the first place. It was given to you by God. You can’t lose the garment of Christ’s righteousness any more than you can lose the shirt on your back. If you’re someone who struggles with feelings of assurance in your faith, let this passage encourage you. Trust in the gracious gift of Christ, not your own performance.

Matthew 18

Read Matthew 18.

Matthew 18 open by telling us that the disciples have asked Jesus a question: “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (v. 1).

There are no dumb questions because only people can be dumb; questions cannot. But this question came close to being a dumb one.

It was so foolish and backward that Christ didn’t even try to answer it. Instead, he reframed the issue.

As the disciples stood there in a circle waiting for his answer, Christ called a child over and put that child in the middle of the circle. Then he told them, you won’t even get IN to the kingdom of heaven unless you lower your estimation of yourself spiritually to the level of a child (vv. 3-4). 

Why was a child a good object lesson for true faith that saves?

A child is completely dependent on his/her parents. Our kids need us to provide them with food and shelter, they need us to tell them when to go to bed and when to get up. They need us to teach them (or put them where they will be taught) about language and math and science but also about how to tie their shoes. Although children can be skeptical and argue with us at times, for the most part they believe that their parents are a trustworthy source of information that is necessary to life. 

Did Peter believe he was the greatest disciple? Andrew? John? Judas?

What a joke; the only one who can be called great in heaven is God. The rest of us depend completely on him for everything, starting with the right to enter heaven in the first place.

And, to advance in the kingdom of heaven, we must maintain a childlike spirit of trust and dependence on God along with a healthy sense of our own weakness and inadequacy before our perfect creator.

Matthew 13

Read Matthew 13.

This chapter contains several important parables about the kingdom of God. One sub-theme that recurs in this chapter is the truth that mundane things of life often crowd out what is really important:

  • In the parable of the soils, one of the people who heard the gospel did not receive it because “the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, making it unfruitful” (v. 22).
  • In the parable of the hidden treasure, the man who found it had to sell “all that he had” to buy the field (v. 44). He was willing to do that; however, there are some people who would not do it because it is too much trouble to sell your stuff or what if the owner of the field refused to sell it?
  • Likewise, in the parable of the pearl (v. 45), the merchant had to sell everything to buy the pearl. I wonder what his wife and children thought when they saw the pearl after he sold their house, their clothes and toys? THIS is what we became homeless and poor for? What are going to eat tonight?
  • Finally, in the story at the end, which was not a parable, the people who lived in Nazareth, where Jesus grew up, couldn’t believe in him despite his “wisdom and these miraculous powers” (v. 54). Why not? Because they knew his family and there was nothing remarkable about them.

One human reason why people don’t come to Christ is that they are too preoccupied with the stuff of life–making a living, advancing in their career, raising children or dealing with a difficult marriage, getting infatuated with a hobby, or doing recreational activities.

But these things tempt those of us who are believers, too. Giving to God’s work seems less worthwhile than saving for a downpayment on a new house, new car, or new boat. Reading scripture seems less interesting than watching television and texting a friend is more gratifying than praying.

When you make time for human things but have no time to cultivate your spiritual life, you’re like the person who decided to go to the movies instead of selling everything to buy that field with the buried treasure in it. You’re trading valuable things for things that are worthless.

Where in your life do you need your priorities realigned? What worthless things (or things that are just worth less) are you filling your life up with instead of living for God’s kingdom?