Paid Debt

Luke 7:36  One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. 37 And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, 38 and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. 39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.” 40  And Jesus answering said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” And he answered, “Say it, Teacher.” 41 “A certain moneylender had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 When they could not pay, he cancelled the debt of both. Now which of them will love him more?” 43 Simon answered, “The one, I suppose, for whom he cancelled the larger debt.” And he said to him, “You have judged rightly”…49 Then those who were at table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this, who even forgives sins?”

There is a Pharisee whose life is set apart to reveal himself as a good man — he’s the host.  There is a woman apparently known to nearly everyone as a “sinner.” She’s the mystery guest.  There is an itinerant teacher named Jesus.  There are so many unanswered questions about this scene.  Why did Jesus agree to go?  I wonder if He was the “celebrity” guest the “good” man had invited to his dinner to intrigue the other guests. How did this sinful woman get in there?  Why wasn’t she thrown out immediately?  This event was probably planned by Jesus Himself so everyone in attendance, had a chance to evaluate Him firsthand and He could teach them one of His biggest truths about sin and forgiveness.

“Say it Teacher” was the good man’s odd response response when Jesus asks to speak. He’s just seen this exchange between Jesus and the mystery woman and suspects Jesus is unfit to teach anybody.  The sinful woman’s extreme act of love had become the lesson Jesus needed to illustrate His story and prompt them to question. …“Who is this, who even forgives sins?”  This is Jesus, the one who by the power of God has the authority to forgive sin of any size so the heart can learn to love God freely and without the obligation of debt.

A New Beginning

“Scripture Quotes,” [My Cliff Notes] and [ESV] Cross References
Ezra 3:1”When the seventh month came,” [the Jews celebrated the Day of Atonement, the Feasts of Trumpets, it’s called RoshHashanah today, and Tabernacles , now Yom Kippur.  It was ten days known as the Days of Awe when people contemplated their position before God.]
[A] Nehemiah 8:1 And all the people gathered as one man into the square before the Water Gate. And they told Ezra the scribe to bring the Book of the Law of Moses that the Lord had commanded Israel.

Ezra 3:2 “Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God.” [the altar was placed on its base found where the ruined temple had stood.]
[D] Deuteronomy 12:5 & 6 …you shall seek the place that the Lord your God will choose out of all your tribes to put his name and make his habitation there. There you shall go, and there you shall bring your burnt offerings and your sacrifices, your tithes and the contribution that you present, your vow offerings, your freewill offerings, and the firstborn of your herd and of your flock

Ezra 3:3 “They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord,” [they recognized the first priority for their safety, before any act of dedication to God, was to place the altar to provide the people a place of atonement for their sins AND be a visible sign to the faithless people of the area of their intent to rebuild what had been destroyed.]
[F] Ezra 4:4…the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build.

Ezra 3:4 “And they kept the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the rule, as each day required,” [This feast celebrated how God had brought them out of Egypt long ago.  Being forced to live once again in temporary shelters to celebrate this feast in a desolate place was a reminder of the faithfulness of God in the past and His active presence in their future.]
[H] Zechariah 14:16 Then everyone who survives of all the nations that have come against Jerusalem shall go up year after year to worship the King, the Lord of hosts, and to keep the Feast of Booths.

Ezra 3:6 “From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord. But the foundation of the temple of the Lord was not yet laid.” [The walls of the temple needed a foundation but without the altar in place there, it could never be the house of God.]

Ezra 3:8 “Now in the second year after their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their kinsmen, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. “
[R] 1 Chronicles 23:24 These were the sons of Levi by their fathers’ houses, the heads of fathers’ houses as they were listed according to the number of the names of the individuals from twenty years old and upward who were to do the work for the service of the house of the Lord.
[S] 1 Chronicles 23:4 “Twenty-four thousand of these,” David said, “shall have charge of the work in the house of the Lord,

Ezra 3:10 “And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel.” [It was a grand ceremonial dedication of thanks for restoration to their homeland and the opportunity to rebuild the house of God.]
[W] 1 Chronicles 6:31 These are the men whom David put in charge of the service of song in the house of the Lord after the ark rested there

 Ezra 3:11 “And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” [This time standing amid the still desolated site with no ark of the covenant and no walls, they ‘made a beginning together,’ offering the best of what they had to God.]
[X] 1 Chronicles 16:34 Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!

Ezra 3:12 &13 “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.” [Many years had passed. Some who were old enough to have seen the first temple, wept tears of grief over the irreplaceable things of glory that had been lost forgetting the sin that had led to their exile. Others who were young, never knowing anything other than exile and longing for a proper place of worship, rejoiced over the promised glory of God in this “new” foundation.]
Zechariah 8:7 & 8 Thus says the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will save my people from the east country and from the west country, and I will bring them to dwell in the midst of Jerusalem. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness.”

New Wine

Matthew 9:17
17 Neither is new wine put into old wineskins. If it is, the skins burst and the wine is spilled and the skins are destroyed. But new wine is put into fresh wineskins, and so both are preserved.”
Mark 2:22
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”
Luke 5:37-38
37 And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled, and the skins will be destroyed. 38 But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. 

— When I began to study for this parable it seemed like it was only a short add-on to the more important idea from last Wednesday’s parable, the Wedding Guest.  Many were looking for a long expected savior.  Jesus spoke this parable to identify Himself as something new God was doing. There were “old” expectations way back in Genesis 49:11 and Deuteronomy 32:14, describing the coming of one who’s investment would be in “the blood of grapes.” 

Those were old words made new by Jesus identifying Himself as this “new” way God was going redeem and preserve His people…IF they could accept what He was doing and that this “new wine” could not be contained in old expectations and regulations.  There was an odd word in the ESV version of Deuteronomy 32 that described the wine as “foaming.”  The ancient process of wine making seemed like it’s own verification of this parable to me. There was a personal involvement in making new wine.  It took the whole body’s weight for the feet to press the grapes by gently breaking their skins but not destroying the seeds.  Those seeds were a vital part of the flavor of the resulting juice as the process continued foaming and fermenting to finally become the “new wine” that makes those old words from Deuteronomy the reality that today it’s Jesus that “nourishes and sustains its branches while they[we] develop their[our] fruit.”

Good News!

1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing:  2 “Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.”  5 Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. 6 And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. 7 Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. 

My Cliff Notes:
That the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia.  He made a proclamation and also put it in writing:  Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him.  Let him go up to Jerusalem and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel.  Then rose up everyone whose spirit God had stirred and all who were about them aided them with all that was freely offered.  Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem.

Interesting things I learned:
God used one pagan king, Nebuchadnezzar, to punish the Jews and another, Cyrus, to return the exiled people to Jerusalem to restore their temple. It’s an odd bit of Good News that the success of Godless men does not affect the Sovereignty of God’s complete authority over all men despite their manipulative intent, despite hostile power grabs and despite distance and time. 

God returned His people to the very place His son must be born and to His Temple in the city where Jesus would come in order to accomplish His plans for the salvation of many.   Thanks to a small footnoteª I read these words, also from Jeremiah 29:10, “For thus says the Lord: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.”  It was curiosity that ‘stirred up’ my spirit to see a new connection between Old Testament history and the only verse I could quote from Jeremiah; the very next one after the one Ezra 1 references. It’s just one additional verse but it confirms the centuries old desire from the heart of God to His people that is still true today.  You probably know it too. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”  That one more verse makes Ezra more than history, it’s Good News for today!

Wedding Guest

Luke 5:33 And they [the Pharisees and their scribes] said to him, “The disciples of John fast often and offer prayers, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees, but yours eat and drink.” 34 And Jesus said to them, “Can you make wedding guests fast while the bridegroom is with them? 35 The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in those days.” 36 He also told them a parable: “No one tears a piece from a new garment and puts it on an old garment. If he does, he will tear the new, and the piece from the new will not match the old.  ESV

It seems quite a few cared about why Jesus’s disciples were not fasting.  Let’s assume a good definition of fasting is a discipline to abstain from an ordinary practice [eating in this case] in order to direct the focus away from that practice to something very different; a connection to God in a private and humble way.  If you’re doing it right who will ever even know or notice?  This group of people has noticed and Jesus cares about that.

I’ve never heard anyone call fasting a celebration or a wedding a discipline but it seems clear what Jesus has in mind in this parable is to teach us to consider both focus and timing.  There is a time to abstain from some ordinary things to focus on His presence in us being about more than adding a new patch to what is wearing out so it will last a little longer.  And there is a time to remember we’re in His presence as honored guests at an extraordinary celebration. “Now you’re dressed in a new wardrobe. Every item of your new way of life is custom-made by the Creator, with his label on it.”a

a Colossians 3:10 MSG

Predestined in Him

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, 4 even as he chose us In Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love 5 he PREDESTINED us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. 7In Him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight 9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. 11In Him we have obtained an inheritance, having been PREDESTINED according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In Him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.  ESV

“In the fullness of time” God “predestined us for adoption to Himself.”  I’ve struggled with that one word “predestined” and the idea of God picking and choosing who will be blessed.  I don’t presume the outcome of that debate with myself is absolute truth, but according to this Scripture I do absolutely believe this to be true: God made a plan “that we should be holy and blameless before him” to provide us a destiny…which He set forth in Christ…to the praise of His glory.”

I wonder if it’s our tainted humanity that has caused us to attribute to God some competitive nature that must decide who’s in and who’s out?  His plan for that difficult word, “predestined” is so much bigger than God picking and choosing individuals for whom that adoption will occur. “Before the foundation of the world” He predestined a perfect plan and one perfect man, Jesus, “to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth…
according to the purpose of his will,
according to the riches of his grace,
according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ,
according to the purpose of him who works all things,
according to the counsel of his will…so that

In Him you also,
when you heard the word of truth,
the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him,
were sealed
with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance
until we acquire possession of it,
to the praise of his glory.”

The “More”

24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.” ESV

Jesus is telling this story about people.  In this case it’s pretty obvious the good choice would be building on the rock but it’s “more” than a story about good/bad options.  It’s a story for everyone whether they’re wise or foolish.  Each hears these words…each built his house and on each the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house.   There’s “more” to consider here if the two builder’s circumstances were not what made the difference in their outcome.

This parable is not a story about the danger of circumstances. The danger Jesus is warning about is our destiny if we trust more in our belief rather than the truth of His Words.  Recently I’ve discovered something new about how the Bible can tell me “more.”  It was a surprise to me to discover if I’d been doing a word or topical search and copying the verses I found I could then read those verses as a story of their own without the references and Voila! I found “more” from His Word.  So here’s “more” for today.

“The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice.  A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.a  So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, ‘the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,’ and ‘a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.’  They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.”b

a Deut 32:4
b 1 Peter 2:7

His Body, Made Visible

1:21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.  24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church…ESV

I understood the “once you were alienated” of verse 21.  I did have a curious little blip when I read “now reconciled in His body of flesh by his death” but I didn’t realize how lightly I’d skimmed over that phrase until I got down to verse 24.  Those Words were the shock factor that turned my blip into a full-on stop light.  The first thing I found was this wise statement from William Barclay. “It is one of the facts of the human mind that a man thinks only as much as he has to.” The Bible is filled with that “has to” factor. STOP! Look more, this is different, don’t just let this casually slip away.

I found myself wondering about the nature of reconciliation that requires a “body of flesh” as well as Christ’s death.  What made those words “what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” so shocking is knowing even though we are the the body of Christ, the church cannot save people from their sins, or by baptism or communion make them holy and blameless and above reproach.  Only Christ can do that.  What could possibly be lacking in His afflictions?  What could possibly make someone rejoice in their suffering for the sake of His body, that is the church?  Paul knew the answer.  He wasn’t boasting when he said I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, he was giving his testimony.  It’s a shared testimony for all us who are the part of the physical presence of Christ today, the church. 

What is lacking in Christ’s afflictions is our afflictions.
We are His physical testimony, His body, made visible to the world…
He has now reconciled [us] in his body of flesh by his death.

I Am/You Are

14 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. ESV

This parable from Matthew is from the same Lord who said “I am the light of the world.a” It’s a big deal!  Light and sight were God’s #1 priority at creation and now Jesus says “You are the light of the world.” Light is still His priority and “I Am/You Are” is His #1 way to share it with a world, a city and all in the house that are having trouble seeing…
Direction: Where the light is coming from
Intensity: the impact light has on what is seen
Contrast: what is hidden by darkness

Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.  You are the light of the world… so that they may see your [light] good works and
give glory to your Father who is in heaven.  

a John 8:12

The Mystery In-Between

1 What then shall we say was gained by Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh? 2 For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. 3 For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness.” 

Romans 4 contains a timeless truth about righteousness.  I’ve removed Romans 4-12 from this post on purpose to stir up your interest in the mysterious truth that lies in-between those first three verses and verse 24.  I want you to read and ponder those verses for yourself because they are thought-provoking reminders of the visceral [felt in or as if in the internal organs of the body] reality of God’s intent to interact physically with His people not just instruct them.

Romans 4:4-12 is the reality of a physical interaction between God and Abraham that’s now uniquely part of our heritage as his descendants.  True to His word God has given all Abraham’s descendants a new seal  to verify what He has already done; the precise surgical procedurea  that purposely removed the barrier left in-between the heart and the righteousness He counts as His own.

Romans 4:24…It [Righteousness] will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.

a Deuteronomy 30:6