Wednesday, March 23, 2011
Life of Jesus
Many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, "Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?" And hearing this, Jesus said to them, "It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners."
Jesus specifically sought out those who were unacceptable in his society to eat with them and to teach them and to call them to be disciples. Although he taught those who were upstanding in Galilean society, he said that his purpose was to bring those who are sinning back to the Father. So his main purpose in his ministry was to connect with and teach the outcast—those who were unacceptable to conservative society.
"I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
Some were complaining about Jesus associating and accepting the outcast from Jewish society. In parables, Jesus taught that he is reaching out to those who should be entering the kingdom, but fell away from God because of their sin. He calls these people “lost”. So Jesus is just calling back those who were originally in God’s way, and that when they return, there is more rejoicing over that return than for many who remained with God their whole lives.
Truly I say to you that the tax collectors and prostitutes will get into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness and you did not believe him; but the tax collectors and prostitutes did believe him; and you, seeing this, did not even feel remorse afterward so as to believe him.
Jesus uses another parable to contrast the conservative religious Jews and the sinners who began to follow Jesus. It is better, Jesus is saying, for a person to refuse to obey and then to change their minds than to be one who agrees to obey and changes their minds. The sinners are those who did evil, but then decided to come and remain with Jesus. But the conservative religious folks are those who claim to be doing God’s will but never actually do.
Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much." And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."
Zaccheus is an example of one of the lost. He was living in sin—he was cheating some of his fellow Jews out of their money in order to line his own pockets. And he was wealthy, so he didn’t need the money. But he realized his sin and so desperately sought Jesus out. Jesus agreed to accept him, and there was grumbling about this by the conservative religious folks. But Zaccheus shut them up by speaking of his actions of repentance. At this point, Jesus declared that Zaccheus was fully accepted into the family of God.
Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him? But you have dishonored the poor man.
No matter who comes into church—no matter how insignificant they are, no matter how bad they act or smell—we need to be accepting to them. If they lead other people to sin, then we need to separate them out. But otherwise we need to accept them and treat them as well as we would treat the president if he arrived. We are to give everyone good treatment, showing that they are welcome to come to God.
I Corinthians 9:19-23
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
Not everyone is called to be an evangelist. Not everyone is called to specifically reach out to those who are unacceptable. But for those of us who are, we are to become servants, workers, slaves for those whom we are called to. We need to put their needs first and establish what they need so that we can try to meet it, according to our resources and abilities.
• Phillip left proper Jewish society and reached out to those who were considered “heretics” and “a cult”—the Samaritans. Phillip did not tell them how evil they were, he just explained the opportunity they had to enter the kingdom of God through Jesus. Many Samaritans took the opportunity to come to Jesus. Phillip was also the first person to give the gospel to an Ethiopian, about whom no one knew much.
• John Wycliffe was a professor at Oxford. Bible education was something only for the wealthy because it was considered that the poor couldn’t properly understand it. But Wycliffe determined that the Bible taught that the gospel should be given to the poor and so he started holding classes for the poor in English. When a peasant riot occurred, Wycliffe was blamed because of his teaching. Nevertheless, he continued to teach the poor.
• William Booth lived in England near the turn of the 20th century. He determined to do two things—to teach of how to live the holiness of God and to reach out to the poor. He and his wife Catherine called many people to dedicate their lives to live for those who were considered unacceptable in their society. They started the organization known as the Salvation Army which is still today a church and an organization that assists the poor.
Living It Out
• Don’t show favoritism
No matter what race, religion, or past experience, everyone has an equal chance to come to God and be accepted by him. Let us not do anything that stands in the way.
• Go out of your way to welcome the unacceptable
People who are not accepted by society should be given preference so that they can come to the Lord.
• Do all you can to accept and help brothers and sisters who are unacceptable by mainstream society
Churches today reject many people who do not look like them or act like them, even if people are not strictly involved in sin. Mainstream churches have a hard time accepting the mentally ill or homeless. But we must go out of our way to accept and help those who don’t look or act in a “proper” manner, but they are still doing all they can to follow the Lord.
• No matter how sinful someone is, give them the opportunity to repent
Don’t write people off just because they have a lifestyle of sin or have rejected the Lord in the past. Anyone can come to the Lord anytime—it is a matter of the Lord softening their heart and they receiving his gift of faith. Keep giving people the opportunity to come to the Lord, even if it seems like they never would.
One day Saint Epiphanius sent someone to Abba Hilarion with this request: "Come, and let us see one another before we depart from the body." When he came, they rejoiced in each other's company.
During their meal, they were brought a fowl. Epiphanius took it and gave it to Hilarion. Then the old man said to him, "Forgive me, but since I received the habit I have not eaten meat that has been killed."
The bishop answered, "Since I took the habit, I have not allowed anyone to go to sleep with a complaint against me and I have not gone to rest with a complaint against anyone."
The old man replied, "Forgive me, your way of life is better than mine."
-From The Sayings of the Desert Fathers
Friday, March 4, 2011
Jesus told the disciples another story: "God's utopia is like a mustard seed, a tiny seed compared to most other seeds. But a man took that insignificant thing and planted it in his land and he let it grow. And when it grew up fully, it became a sturdy tree so strong that the birds rested in the branches. Even so, you, my disciples, are insignificant and the least. But when the Father and the Spirit are done with you, you shall be strong enough that the nations of heaven will rest comfortably within you."
"God's utopia is like a small pinch of yeast which a woman carefully places into four gallons of pizza dough. Then she mixes it all together so that the yeast cannot be seen anymore, yet it has permeated the whole of the flour, so that it has all been transformed."
Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.
Wherever Jesus went, he healed and cast out demons. But he did not do this by the knowledge or power of human beings. Instead he depended on the Father, speaking by his authority over the spirit world, delivering people from their ailments caused by the spirit world. Some followed him because of his teaching, but most people followed Jesus because they wanted him to perform a miracle and to show his authority. But Jesus did not do the work because he wanted to give a show. Rather, he had real compassion on the people who came to him and wanted to see them be delivered (Matthew 14:14; Luke 7:12-16)
Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, 'Your sins are forgiven'; or to say, 'Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk '?
The illnesses that Jesus cured were seen as caused by spirits who were given opportunity to judge people because of their sins. When people came to be healed, they were looking for mercy from the One who allowed them to be judged because of their sin, or the sin of their community. Here, a group of people are going to Jesus with one of their friends, asking for forgiveness for all of them, although only one was punished. Jesus gave them forgiveness—telling the man that he was acceptable to the Lord. As a sign of that acceptance, he commanded the spirit world to release the man from his infirmity.
There was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, "Woman, you are freed from your sickness."
This woman had a back pain, but it was clear that this was an infirmity caused by Satan as a judgement. Jesus insisted that the woman be healed immediately because she had suffered long enough under Satan’ judgment. So Jesus commanded the spirit world to release her from judgement and so she knew that she was acceptable before the Lord.
"If I cast out demons by the Spirit of God, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Or how can anyone enter the strong man's house and carry off his property, unless he first binds the strong man? And then he will plunder his house."
Jesus said, that if a slave is to be delivered, the master of the slave must first be bound and placed under the authority of the one delivering the slave. Jesus came to deliver people from slavery of sin and Satan. But Jesus first has to bind the master of the person—the one who is controlling them through judgement from the spirit world. Jesus releases people from the judgement and gives them an opportunity to be a slave of God.
Behold, I have given you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing will injure you.
The authority over the spirit world that Jesus had, he passes on to others. And so the followers of Jesus are to use that authority to set people free from the bondages of evil spirits. However, Jesus said, we are not to be impressed with ourselves because we are able to do that. Rather, we are to rejoice that it indicates that God has accepted us and will receive us into his kingdom.
Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.
In being able to control spirits, there are many sicknesses and even deaths that we can reverse. We have to be aware and listen to the Spirit to determine when we are to do this.
"These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
Every believer has some authority over the spirit world, granted to them by their Lord Jesus. Signs will follow every believer that they are people who are powerful in the Spirit world.
Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.
Our task is not to battle against other people, as if we were warriors on the earth. Rather, we are to be fighting for people’s lives in the spirit realm. We are to battle against spiritual forces, which, in some ways, are more powerful and dangerous than anything we have on earth.
• After receiving the Spirit, Peter met many opportunities to heal and to release people from spiritual judgement. He taught about Jesus, but he also healed a paralytic, he raised a woman from the dead, and healed many others by the authority given to him by Jesus.
• Paul also healed many and cast out many demons. He wrote that a sign of a true apostle is “miracles.” He was deeply concerned about others but he primarily used his authority granted to him by Jesus to build up the kingdom of God.
Living It Out
• Look for how people are bound by Satan. Most everyone has at least one area of bondage, more often than not many more. But don’t assume that you know what their bondage is—sometimes one sin pattern is covering up a deeper bondage and sometimes it is difficult to see at all. Everyone, before they come to the Lord, is bound by Satan and sin and that bondage is displayed. If one says that they have never needed to be delivered from anything, then it probably means that they still need to be delivered from something.
• When you speak the gospel, pray for others. Speaking the gospel and prayer go hand in hand. To speak a message of deliverance means to pray for deliverance and to see God’s kingdom at work in our lives.
• Speak by the authority given to us by Jesus. We need to remember that we ourselves do not have the authority necessary to command the spirit world to do anything. Only Jesus gives us the power to do this and so we must use that power only for the sake of Jesus’ kingdom and for love of others, even as Jesus’ commanded.
• Don’t overstep your authority. If you do not have the authority to command spirits, don’t. If you attempt to command spirits that have not judged anyone unjustly, then they do not need to listen to you. Take care, as well, not do disrespect any spiritual authority.
• Be alert! Take care in attacking the spirits to realize that you will be attacked as well. Be aware of these attacks and do not allow them to overwhelm you. Cry out to the Lord for deliverance.