Thursday, July 19, 2018

Come In

Print Passage: Luke 13:22-30
Devotional Reading: Psalm 1

In Thailand, 12 boys on a soccer team and their coach were recently rescued from a deep dark place inside of a cave. They had been stranded for more than a week two-and-a-half miles inside the mountain before being found. The rescue effort took almost two weeks. The way out had been flooded and monsoon rains were threatening to completely overwhelm the cave. The passageways were extremely tight in places, and the rescue involved long swims through water clouded with mud. It was a difficult task for the highly trained technical divers, and the boys didn’t know how to swim. In fact, one of the 200 divers lost his life during the rescue.1

Have you ever felt overwhelmed by a situation and without hope? Many thought the situation of the soccer team was hopeless because they could not save themselves. Like them we could not and can’t save ourselves. Jesus gave up His life that we might be saved. We rejoice with the soccer team rescued from the flooded caved in Thailand. And we rejoice that God has done what we cannot do for ourselves by rescuing us through Christ. It was a rescue to give us hope for our eternity, not to be taken lightly.

We used to play a game called Simon Says. Simon Says do this or Simon Says don’t do that. If I was acting on my will without Simon, I would be disqualified. The same is true with Jesus Says do this or Jesus Says don’t do that. If I am acting on my will and am disobedient in some measures so that I am trying to create a middle road, I am still disqualified because I am against Jesus Says. There are only two roads to find the correct road to follow Jesus. Ps 1:6 frankly states, For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the ungodly shall perish. (NKJV) The wide road won’t lead you to the narrow door of the LORD. A middle, I did it my zig-zag way road does not exist that will lead to His narrow door. You must take the narrow road to His door because Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. (John 14:6 NKJV) He is our rescue agent, and He is not to be taken lightly.

This summer quarter focuses on Justice in the New Testament. We are in Unit II “Jesus Calls for Justice and Mercy” of the three units of the quarter. This is the fourth lesson of the five lesson study with the parable of the Narrow Door and the Great Eschatological Banquet taught by Jesus at Luke 13:22-30. When you read the passage it is almost with a sadness that only a few will be rescued and saved, a sadness that many will not enter the narrow door, and a sadness that many of His people will be excluded from the feast.

The circumstances of the parable of the Narrow Door begins at Luke 13:22-23 reading, And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then one said to Him, “LORD, are there few who are saved?” And He said to them, (NKJV) Jesus began His journey toward His appointment in Jerusalem in chapter 9, where He would fulfill His purpose on earth by giving His life for the sins of the world and giving man access to God. Along the way toward Calvary and the cross, He taught in all cities and villages no matter their size in Perea. He wanted all people to be aware of their destiny, to repent, and to be aware of His Second Coming. Jesus had not visited Perea before now. The early part of His ministry was spent in Galilee. He was fulfilling an earlier statement in Luke 4:43b, “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.” (NKJV)< br/>

When someone makes an inquiry of Jesus we are not given any information as to his/her motive. Perhaps he was simply curious. Or maybe he wondered what the teaching of Jesus meant since it was radically different from the teaching of the Pharisees and scribes who taught all Jews should have a place in the kingdom. Perhaps this person wants clarification of the earlier teaching of Jesus at verses 18 and 19 regarding the parable of the mustard seed. How can it be a “few” if the kingdom is to grow large like a mustard seed grows into a tree. Actually none of us truly know the reason for another person’s questions or their actions. The best we can do is speculate.

However, Jesus knew the heart of the questioner. His answer is crucial enough that He directs it to the entire crowd, not with a Yes or No response but with the Parable of the Narrow Door as a teaching opportunity. Jesus taught at Luke 13:24-27, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, ‘LORD, LORD, open for us,’ and He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.’ But He will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ (NKJV)

We could possibly speculate and respond Yes to the question whether only a few will be saved. Only God knows the number of people who have lived since the beginning of history and shall live until the end of times. And only He knows the percent of that number that are of His family and saved. We could also speculate and respond No to the question. How will it possibly be considered a few saved people when people will come from all over the world to be saved in the kingdom? Therefore it is not important to inquire about how many or how few will be saved; rather, what are we doing to make sure we are in the number who are saved. We must be sure we are striving to be saved.

Jesus tells the crowd it is no easy matter, no walk through the park, to get through the narrow gate. They must strive or make every determined effort that is necessary to achieve victory. It is hard to get to heaven. So the parable indicates it is very hard to get through the narrow gate. Maybe the person has to lose weight, some baggage, or maybe too many people are trying to get through this narrow door. We must strive to get through the narrow door that leads to heaven. The experience will be a struggle, a wrestle in prayer (Col 4:12), a fight of the good fight of faith (1 Tim 6:12).

In the Sermon on the Mount at Matt 7:13-14 Jesus referred to the narrow gate. In the passage the emphasis seems to be on finding the gate. Here the emphasis shifts to actually entering through the narrow door after you find the narrow gate. At this point why would there be many who would not be able to enter? I am sure you are familiar with the drama of punching a time clock. What would you do, within reason, to make sure you are on time? No one can punch your time card into heaven for you. There is a critical urgency in going through the narrow gate, not just finding it. Have you repented and confessed Jesus as your Savior? Don’t be late or this boss, the LORD, will shut the door, and you will be outside the gate.

You did not strive and make every necessary effort to conform to the regulations and religious practices of the LORD and will not be able to enter. As a result, you are not one of the few to be saved. After the LORD shuts the door it does not matter that the outsiders knock and plead to come inside. The LORD denies that He knows those on the outside who are now urgently seeking to come inside. He tells them, ‘I do not know you, where you are from,’ The LORD knows who belongs in His family. This is similar to what Jesus teaches will be said to the disobedient at Matt 7:23 (“I never knew you”) and Matt 25:12 (“Truly I tell you, I don’t know you”).

The outsiders were treated as if they had crashed a party and the words of the Master of the house had truly stunned them. Perhaps they were angry for they felt they had shared meals with Him in His presence and been in His crowds while He taught. The LORD knew these were phony relationships for they had not committed themselves by striving to do what was necessary to enter the narrow gate. Perhaps they just wanted to share in the meals He served or to watch His miracles and healing services, but they were not completely receptive of His doctrine and beliefs. Jesus denies them because He wants more than their familiarity with Him. They are not part of His vine and He discards them saying, Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity. In trying to keep up an appearance of being religious they had kept up their secret sins. Jesus gave them up to the misery of the damned in hell.

Now Jesus shifts from the Parable of the Narrow Door to the Eschatological Banquet. Eschatological refers to “the end times”. Luke 13:28-30 describes who will be able to sit down at the banquet stating, There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.” (NKJV)

This is the utmost indignation and grief for the outsiders, whose suffering in hell does not change their heart. Their exclusion is associated with the punishment they will receive in outer darkness eternally. They are weeping with feelings of remorse and regret, a change of mind, not a change of heart. They are simply upset they were caught. Sincere repentance would have made the difference in their experience.

Take, for example, the Apostle Peter and Judas Iscariot. Peter denied the Lord, heard the cock crow three times, looked into the eyes of the LORD (Luke 22:61), and wept bitterly. He had a change of heart, repented, and was forgiven by the LORD who told him to feed His sheep and basically go back to work in the kingdom. Judas, on the other hand, was simply sorry he had made the wrong irreversible choice to betray Jesus (Luke 22:2-4). He did not go to Jesus and ask for forgiveness. He sought for a return of the money from the religious leaders. Why? What was that going to do? Money will not buy you a way through the door to heaven or a place at the heavenly banquet. Plus the religious leaders had what they wanted by delivering Jesus to the Romans for His appointment. They did not need any money. Judas felt used and failed to repent before the door closed. He committed suicide instead.

There is gnashing of teeth of those who find themselves outside the door which speaks of violent hatred of God because of their everlasting position in hell. They suffer even more when they see the patriarchs and prophets sit down and celebrate, feasting at the banquet, while they have not been allowed an admittance pass to where they believe they should be included. Their exclusion is similar to that of the rich man who could see the beggar Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom in eternal comfort on the other side of the eternal gulf, while he was sent to eternal hell (Luke 16:19-31). Just to view the saints’ glory and know they had been thrown out was enough to cause the wicked to grieve and gnash their teeth (Ps 112:10).

The eschatological banquet was first prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah at Is 25:6-8a stating (in part), And in this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all people a feast of choice pieces, a feast of wines …. He will swallow up death forever, And the LORD God will wipe away tears from all faces; the rebuke of His people He will take away from all the earth; For the LORD has spoken. (NKJV) So when Jesus speaks of the feast for all people, it is not for Jews only. It is not an exclusive kingdom. People of all nationalities will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. To be a spiritual descendant of Abraham and spread the gospel to all nations is what counts.

Jesus spoke of the feast on at least two other occasions. The Parable of the Great Banquet is recorded in Matt 22:2-14 and Luke 14:15-24. In each of these occasions the host sends wedding invitations to guests. There are those who are not thrilled to come to the wedding feast. They are, therefore, uninvited. Substitute guests are invited instead to enjoy the festivities. Those who consider themselves in a privileged position and first become last, looking at the feast from outside the gate. Their only hope could be to sincerely repent and respond to the Master’s call before the door closes. Those who the Jewish leaders view as last come out to be first as long as they have a relationship with God and chose Jesus as their Savior. They find themselves now sitting in a place of honor in the kingdom with full access to God because they had strived to remain obedient to His terms. It isn’t easy, but the reward is worth it.

Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. (1 Corin 9:24-25 NKJV)

Deborah C. Davis

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Persistence Pays Off

Print Passage: Luke 18:1-8
Devotional Reading: Psalm 145:13b-20

Jesus uses a greater to lesser argument in Matthew 6:25-27 which teaches, “Therefore I say to you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not more value than they? Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature?” (NKJV)

Worry and anxious thoughts are an unnecessary pastime according to the LORD. He who gives life, our Creator, is also the One who will sustain us with food, clothing, money, jobs, family, friends, and so much more. The difference between rich and poor, young and old, racial backgrounds, etc. is irrelevant because each of us stand on the same level. Each of us are of the created lesser than He, the greater Creator God. It is unnecessary to worry or have anxious concerns about life. All we need do is see how the Creator provides. Since humans are created in His image and are far more valuable to God than birds, we need not worry. This great God provides, sustains, and cares for each of His creatures. No one can add a single hour to their life through anxious thoughts. Worry only brings stress and sickness. Consistently pray instead to God in the Name of Jesus.

This summer quarter focuses on Justice in the New Testament. We are in Unit II “Jesus Calls for Justice and Mercy” of the three units of the quarter. This is the third lesson of the five lesson study with a parable taught by Jesus of a persistent widow and an unjust judge. It is sandwiched between His addressing a question of the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God would come (Luke 17:20) and an instruction on humility by way of the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector, which follows it at Luke 18:9. Jesus was giving instructions in view of His rejection as His ministry was to come to a close in a couple of months. He wanted His disciples and followers prepared for the difficult days ahead.

In Luke 17:20-37 Jesus addressed the concerns of the Pharisees and, later, the disciples as to the coming of the kingdom of God and His return. He described the coming as a spiritual work that will meet with much opposition, the Messiah must suffer before He reigns, and the Jewish nation must be destroyed to set up the kingdom of the Messiah, and when Christ returns the believers will immediately escape the destruction at a time only known to God.

After teaching the disciples about the destruction which Jesus compared to lightning, the flood of Noah’s day, and the destruction of Sodom Jesus knew they were in need of instruction to prepare them against worry, against anxious thoughts. The key to a parable usually does not appear in the 1st verse but at/or toward the end. However, this very important point was to be recognized from the beginning of the parable and carried throughout as it reads in Luke 18:1, Then He spoke a parable to them, that men always ought to pray and not lose heart, (NKJV).

Jesus had already taught the disciples a model prayer (Luke 11:1-4). We are to pray to our spiritual, holy God who will send Jesus back again to set up His kingdom. We must pray to follow the LORD’s commandments on earth just as commandments are followed in heaven. Believers are to request daily, spiritual and physical food for themselves and their neighbors. We are to request forgiveness for our sins, seen and unseen, known and unknown, as we forgive those sins committed by others. We are to pray for deliverance from any and all evil, and be thankful for the kingdom, power, and glory which belongs to the LORD. The Psalm of David, Number 145 verses 13, and 18-19 indicate His …kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, And His dominion endures throughout all generations…The LORD is near to all who call upon Him, To all who call upon Him in truth. He will fulfill the desire of those who fear Him; He also will hear their cry and save them. (NKJV) Believers must be consistent and remain focused in our prayer life. We must call upon Him.

Jesus wants us to never tire, never faint, in our prayer life and not view prayer as our “spare tire”. What does it mean to faint not? We know that fainting is associated with abrupt unconsciousness which may be said to be unintentional. Jesus wants us to be intentional and conscious in our decisions and not to lose heart, not to faint, not to lose our faith. The Apostle Paul instructed the believers at Gal 6:9, let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. (NKJV) A strong, consistent prayer life is what we need in order to be intentional and conscious.

By parable Jesus shows the power of persistence, especially through annoyance, among men who will be influenced by nothing else other than that to provide justice. Luke 18:2-5 provides insightful perspective. The Scriptures read, “There was in a certain city a judge who did not fear God nor regard man. Now there was a widow in that city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Get justice for me from my adversary.’ And he would not for awhile; but afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I do not fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow troubles me I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.’” (NKJV)

We have a judge whose duty it is to hear complaints fairly and impartially. Widows were deprived the support of their husband and could not inherit their husband’s estate during the biblical days. The fact this widow was speaking for herself would mean she did not have a male to speak in her stead on her behalf. She was likely poor and vulnerable to exploitation. She has to be bold and strong in order to take on this judge who has no fear of God nor man. He does not see in her anything she can give him as a bribe to decide her case. So he puts her off by ignoring her. She refuses to be ignored and is persistent. She consistently comes back, most likely on a daily basis. Maybe she took her lunch with her to his office to sit and wait for his audience a few days. Perhaps she followed him. Perhaps she sat in his courtroom within his eyesight. We will never know what she did to wear out his patience. But she was persistent in her request that he avenge her of her adversary. The point is faith asks, faith acts, and faith perseveres and endures.

Do not lose sight of the wickedness of the unjust judge because he finally granted the widow’s request. He just did it because he was tired of her persistence and wanted to get rid of the widow. He was not converted to believe in God nor did he worry about his standing with men. This parable is decided similarly to the parable at Luke 11:5-8 where a friend gets his friend out the bed because he needs three loaves of bread. His friend finally opens the door, not because of the friendship, but because of the persistence.

Jesus wanted the disciples to really pay attention and apply the guiding principle of verse 1 to the parable as it continues to unwind. If this unjust judge will come to the aid of the persistent widow who he cares nothing about, how much more will the sovereign God bring about justice for His beloved chosen believers who consistently pray? Luke 18:6-8 reads, Then the LORD said, “Hear what the unjust judge said. And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?” (NKJV)

We know this widow received justice in due time and she was a stranger to the unjust judge. In comparison, we are the loving children of God. The widow stood as one before the unjust judge while we stand as many in our prayer lives before the Almighty Great God. The widow went to an unjust judge while we appeal to the Righteous Judge through our prayers. She could only cry out to the unjust judge during the times when he granted her access. In comparison, we have access to cry out to God both day and night. Instead of praying some believers ask, ‘When will God come to the defense of His people?’ Jesus wanted to assure His disciples that God will provide mercy. The believers have many adversaries and, it is our duty to cry out both day and night to God for justice. We must have faith that our prayers shall be heard at the proper time, and we shall receive mercy quickly or in God’s time. We often say, “He may not come when you want Him, but He’s right on time!” It requires patience.

Matt 18:19b-20 states, “If two of you agree on earth concerning anything that they ask, it will be done for them by My Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there in the midst of them.” (NKJV) I am reminded of yet another teaching of Jesus found in Luke 11:9-13. This lesser to greater wisdom was a message to the believers to keep asking, seeking, and knocking. The Passage reads, “So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you, seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish. Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to who ask Him!” (NKJV)

In the parable the widow persevered until she received justice. She did not grow weary. But will we grow weary before we receive mercy? Remember faith asks, faith acts, and faith perseveres and endures. We have been assured the Son of Man shall come. Are we patient in our wait? Can we keep the faith while we wait for the return of the Son of Man? (Rev 19) Or will we become disobedient during the wait? Why fight in this battle if we do not believe we are on the winning side? (Rev 20) There may be some who lose their faith and conclude He is not coming. It is a challenge, but think of how we shall meet up with God one day if we remain obedient and patient. He will wipe away all of our tears (Rev 21:4) and answer all of our prayers. This is our comfort. Unbelievers can’t change or make the promised return of the Son of Man of no effect. God keeps His promises and does not lie. (Num 23:19) Be patient. Keep praying. Ps 145:20 states, The LORD preserves all who love Him, But all the wicked He will destroy. (NKJV)

Deborah C. Davis